Saturday, December 12, 2009

UFC 107 Preview

Some quick picks for the fights tonight:

Kenny Florian v. Clay Guida
Florian, Round 3, Unanimous Decision
As much as I like Guida, I just don't think he has the tools to defeat Florian, who has better skills in just about every range of the fight. He'll frustrate Clay by sticking to the outside, and then threaten with submissions if Clay shoots for a takedown. Even without subs, Kenny has the skills to sweep for his own ground-and-pound in an dominant position. Clay's good, but I don't think he's at the same level as KenFlo.

Frank Mir v. Chiek Kongo
Mir, Round 2, Submission
Kongo is definitely the most dangerous striker in the UFC heavyweight division, but he doesn't have the skills to put him with the top fighters. As long as Frank doesn't try and prove his striking credentials by standing with Kongo, it should be a relatively easy night for him.

BJ Penn v. Diego Sanchez
Penn, Round 4, T/KO
Sanchez has certainly made a name for himself recently, but I'm still surprised to see him in title contention. I really don't think he's ever been in this kind of high-level fight before, and I don't see him winning in any way for this match. Penn has better skills standing, on the ground, and everything in-between. Sanchez says that he plans using his cardio to outlast the champ, but with BJ's much improved strength and conditioning program, I see that as a shaky strategy at best. I suppose anything can happen when BJ is fighting, but everything seems to be in his favor tonight.

Friday, December 11, 2009

My legs tell a story

My legs tell a story.
Lumps and bruises up and down my shins,
Skin worn raw and red from my toes to my knees,
And I am happy.

Strike hard with all the guts left in you,
Strike fast as the timer counts down,
Don't let them catch you
Slacking off.

We are here for one reason
And one reason only.
We are here to learn to fight-
All else is secondary.

Fight for our lives and our livings,
Fight because we have to,
Fight because we goddamn want to.

I have been searching for many years,
And am not even close to finding a real answer
To the real question I have just begun to understand:
What am I fighting for?

I don't know.

But I will drag myself to the gym anyway,
Tired and sore and hungry and cold,
But I'll keep going and going 'til I'm dead or I'm old
There's just something inside me saying I've just got to go
Get stronger and faster and master the flow,
To be feared and loved and known 'round the globe,
I can't ever stop.

Why should I?

My legs are tired from working,
They protest as I walk out the door,
I'm pushing until they can go no more;
Only then, will I be happy.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Evolution of Fighters

Like all skills, learning to fight is a constant work-in-progress. As we age, our minds and bodies change, and we often change our fighting styles with them. Sometimes the change is for the better, as we've seen Anderson Silva go from a ferocious Thai clinch-boxer to an evasive and accurate counter-striker. Sometimes the change is for the worse, which is especially apparent as we watch Mirko Cro-cop begin to feel his age, or when we see Karo Parisyan succumb to drug addiction. Fighters are still human, and carry all the transitive baggage that comes with it.

Tonight we saw the next stage in the evolution of two of the most feared strikers in the UFC, Kimbo Slice, the infamous street brawler, and Houston Alexander, the one-punch knockout artist. They were billed as essentially the same type of fighter, aggressive and dangerous beasts that would explode on the bell, clashing in the middle of the cage in a kill-or-be-killed slugfest. This was not the case, much to the disappointment of many fans. However, I was very pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong.

Houston began his career with the UFC two years ago, making a big splash as he ran through Keith Jardine and Alessio Sakara with highlight-reel knockouts. However, as he faced stronger competition, he didn't measure up, hitting a three fight losing streak that almost lost him his UFC contract. In an unheard-of show of grace, Houston was allowed to fight in a smaller organization after a year of just training. He scored an amazing TKO victory in Adrenaline MMA 4, displaying a discipline never seen before from him, as well as adding devastating leg kicks to his arsenal. Coming into the Kimbo fight, knowing that Slice has a bad left knee, he strategically attacked the lead leg with low kicks, keeping the pace slow to wear on his opponent. Perhaps he displayed a little too much caution in this fight; there were times I felt like he should have capitalized more on Kimbo's weakness, but it was still an impressive performance from Houston. While not perfect, he has found the next piece of the puzzle in his fighting style, and now simply needs to combine it with the dynamic aggression that made him famous.

Kimbo, on the other hand, found his fame as videos of his backyard brawls spread across the internet, creating a fanbase unlike any that has ever been seen in the sport. Three of the four most-watched events in MMA history have starred Slice, making him possibly the biggest draw in the entire sport. Many dedicated fans have criticized his lack of grappling technique and experience, his one-dimensional fighting style, and his street-fighter status. Still, as he's made himself into a legitimate combatant, the surprises continue to pile up. From his humble and earnest personality revealed in the Ultimate Fighter reality show, even more fans flocked to his side. And now, after displaying some serious grappling skills in his fight with Houston, I expect many dedicated fans to begrudgingly admit his competency as well, much as how people came around about Brock Lesnar after his victories over Randy Couture and Frank Mir. Kimbo isn't quite there yet, but it's definitely a much better start than when he debuted on EliteXC.

I know the UFC will be handing on to Kimbo Slice. Even if he loses his next three fights, I imagine that he will still have enough pulling power to make them immense amounts of money each time he fights. If he continues to improve and win, this will only increase his popularity and cash-cow status. Houston Alexander, on the other hand, may be on thin ice. I can only hope the UFC recognizes Alexander's potential, and allows him to develop into the amazing fighter I know he's capable of becoming.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

UFC 106 Review

Wow, was I wrong about this card! Great fights all over, I'll try and keep it brief.

George Sotiropoulos def. Jason Dent (Armbar, 4:36 of Rd 2)
Absolutely stunning groundwork by Sotiropolous, the guy is like water with his top game. Smooth and fluid transitions kept him in control for both rounds, then finished with a sweet arm crush to armbar submission.

Caol Uno vs Fabricio Camoes (Majority Draw)
The one prelim that wasn't aired. I'm told it was an awesome fight, and I'm very much looking forward to watching it when I can get it.

Brian Foster def. Brock Larson (TKO, 3:25 of Rd 2)
Both were doing pretty well, but Larson fouled a couple of times in Round 1. He didn't lose any points, but it made him tentative enough to hold back in the second round, where Brian Foster recovered enough to take the fight to his opponent and come out with the win.

Kendall Grove def. Jake Rosholt (Triangle Choke, 3:59 of Rd 1)
Good wrestling by both fighters, but Grove's jiujitsu was just too much for Rosholt to handle. Those long legs make for some dangerous triangle chokes.

Ben Saunders def. Marcus Davis (KO, 3:24 of Rd 1)
Saunders dominated the fight with great use of the Thai clinch. Davis tried to counter with uppercuts to the head and body, but it was no match for those clinch knees.

Amir Sadollah def. Phil Baroni (Unanimous Decision)
Another clinic on the devastating effectiveness of Thai boxing. Baroni was certainly back in form, all five minutes of it. After lasting through Round One, Amir outclassed Baroni with beautiful combinations of punches, kicks, knees, and elbows.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira def. Luiz Cane (TKO, 1:56 of Rd 1)
Big Nog may own the ground game of the Heavyweight division, but his little brother definitely makes up for it with his amazing boxing.

Paulo Thiago def. Jacob Volkman (Unanimous Decision)
Awesome action all over the cage in this fight. Thiago's stand-up looked incredible, slinging together fast combos that really kept Volkman on his toes. Jacob scored a takedown in Round Two, but even his top game wasn't a match for Thiago's guard. The Brazilian finished the fight with a crucifix ground-and-pound, then an unbelievable D'arce Choke from the bottom. Didn't finish the fight, but it sure looks pretty.

Josh Koscheck def. Anthony Johnson (Rear-Naked Choke, 4:27 of Rd 2)
Some questionable techniques in this fight, but I don't want to assume anything about the intentions of either fighter. All we know for sure is that Johnson threw a knee to a downed Koscheck in Round One, and Koscheck's fingers ended up in Johnson's eyes in Round Two. All that aside, Johnson had some phenomenal kicking combos in this fight, switching up stances and throwing kicks like a real pro. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to stop Josh's takedown, elbows from the top, and eventual submission.

Forrest Griffin def. Tito Ortiz (Split Decision)
Amazing fight. I think Tito won the first two rounds with his power takedowns and great ground-and-pound, but Griffin definitely owned the third with some beautiful Muay Thai. Lots of kicks from Forrest on the feet, something I'm definitely looking forward to seeing more of in the future.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

UFC 106 Preview

I'm actually not too jazzed about this card.

Tito and Forrest doesn't feel like a super-fight, as Ortiz is coming out of retirement, and Griffin is coming off the worst loss of his career. I suppose it'll still be pretty good, but I feel like it's lacking some magic. Maybe watching the countdown will hype it up?

Koscheck and Johnson, another sort of gatekeeper fight. Both have done well, but aren't exactly big draws. Haven't heard anything of Koscheck for while, and I didn't even know Johnson existed until he came in 6 lbs overweight for his last fight a month ago.

Amir and Baroni is probably the best fight on the card. Amir is looking to get his career started in earnest, and Baroni is trying to keep his from ending. Should be interesting.

Cane and Lil Nog is cool, but Rogerio will forever live in Big Nog's shadow. Shame, really.

Karo and Hazelett sounded good at first, but then I realized Karo's been injured forever, then was suspended for painkillers after that. I'm as big a Karo fan as they come, but I feel like he's been out of the picture for far too long. Now with Karo out of the picture, I really can't think of any fights I'm excited for.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UFC 105 Review

Only caught the end of the night after the Pacquiao fight finished, but some great action from the main events.

Dan Hardy had a dominant fight over Mike Swick, taking the number one challenger position with relative ease. For some reason, he kept shooting for a takedown, even though he was dominating the stand-up and clinch game. I can only imagine that he felt he had something to prove by taking the fight to the ground. I think Swick has a significant advantage on the ground, so it wasn't surprising when Swick shot in for takedowns. Still, Hardy delivered a good performance, and will rightfully be taking on GSP for the title in the near future. I don't see Hardy winning, but he might be the one to upset the Canadian's unquestioned reign at 170.

Couture and Vera had an interesting fight. Vera dominated most of the fight with great kickboxing, but the two were pretty even in terms of the clinch. Couture worked his dirty boxing game, but I think it evened out as Vera worked his Muay Thai clinch game. I suppose I might give the edge in the clinch to Couture, but they still didn't spend enough time there to tip the fight in Randy's favor. I don't agree with the judging of this fight, but it doesn't speak for both of the fighters that Vera couldn't finish Couture off, and vice-versa. While both are still good fighters, I don't think either of them are in the same league as Machida, Evans, or Rua to contend for the title.

Pacquiao/Cotto Recap

Absolutely gorgeous fight. If they can't put Pacquiao/Mayweather together after this, I think we can officially say that Floyd Jr. is ducking Manny in an effort to protect his "unbeatable" status. That said, I think Pacquiao lost some of his mystique last night as well.

Cotto was surprisingly fast as the fight started. The accuracy and power of his sharp jab was frightening to say the least, and would have made for a very dangerous fight if he managed to capitalize on it. But Manny managed to adapt to Cotto's timing by the third round, and countered the most dangerous weapons the Puerto Rican brought to the fight. Pacquiao's right hook and left uppercut proved to be devastating, and send Cotto to the canvas twice in the early rounds.

For the rest of the fight, Manny dominated the ring with amazing combinations, catching Miguel with an amazing variety of power punches, coming in at every angle. Cotto's massive heart kept him going, and kept landing that sharp jab, but in the end it just wasn't enough. The referee asked him at the end of the 11th if he wanted to continue, and Miguel want to keep fighting. But in the middle of the 12th and final round, Miguel just couldn't keep up with the pace Pacquiao was setting, and the ref closed down the fight.

The Mayweather/Pacquiao fight seems closer than ever. If Floyd was watching this fight, he might be wondering if he can use his jab as well or better than Cotto against Manny. If he can push for it, I can think of no reason why this fight couldn't, shouldn't, or won't happen.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Know Thine Enemy

In two days, Manny Pacquiao, the Pound-for-Pound top boxer in the world, will fight Puerto Rican sensation Miguel Cotto for the WBO Welterweight belt. Having a lot of Filipino friends, it's only natural that I'll be rooting for Manny this Saturday. Still, let's take a closer look at his upcoming opponent.

Cotto is strong, and has lots of heart, which makes him a difficult opponent for anybody. He's tough to keep down, and has only one loss in his professional career. Furthermore, he's a downright terrifying in-fighter, and his body hooks can easily take the wind out of Manny's sails if our man isn't too careful. Still, as you can see from the video, there are significant holes in his game.

He gets hit a great deal, often relying on his tough chin to break through his opponent's punches in order to deal damage. This may not work on Manny too well, who's known for his blinding hand speed and agile footwork. Watch out for Pac-Man keeping him at bay with quick jabs to the face, followed by side-step and cross punches to the temple.

His main weapons are his Left Hook and his Right Straight. This is actually dangerous for Manny, being a southpaw (left-handed) fighter. A southpaw's right body side is closer to the left hook, and right straights are best for closing the distance against lefties. However, whereas Manny utilizes a variety of punches to confuse his opponent, Cotto has specialized these two weapons and used them in every fight. I have no doubt that Coach Roach has prepared Pacquiao to defend against them well. Watch out for some nasty counters against them.

Lastly, Cotto's shown himself to be a volatile fighter. When emotions run high, fight plans crumble. If Manny can frustrate him early in the fight, I see Cotto making serious errors in the later rounds. Capitalizing on these, a stellar knockout seems imminent.

I predict a 6th round KO by my man, the National Fist, the Fighting Pride of the Philippines, Manny Pacquiao.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Movie Review: Blood and Bone

Blood and Bone

USA, 2009

Genre: Dramatic Action, Gangster

93 minutes

Michael Jai White stars as an ex-convict fighting his way through the underground martial arts circuit, hoping to fulfill a deathbed promise.

“Blood and Bone” markets itself as a gritty MMA movie for the next generation of fighters, billing popular stars like Bob Sapp and Gina Carano. However, it fails to live up its own hype, and presents the same flashy kung fu choreography we have seen time and time again with some flashy groundwork thrown in as an afterthought. By the climactic fights, the pretense is dropped completely to make way for spinning jump kicks and a katana vs. Chinese jian battle. The fights themselves aren’t too bad, although only the last two really last long enough for any satisfaction.

The film is mostly well-shot and edited, although it feels like it’s trying very hard to come off as edgy and street bred, hoping to identify with the no-nonsense-tough-guy-raised-on-the-streets-but-is-still-a-good-person demographic out there. Sarcasm aside, it becomes difficult to identify with White’s hero, who is an amalgam of characters played by David Carradine, Steven Seagal, and Jet Li; cool and in control under all circumstances, capable of playing with the mom and kids one minute, then breaking a man’s arm with no regrets in the next. White does have some chemistry with Dante Basco’s Pinball, an underground fight promoter, manager, and announcer rolled into one very fashionable street thug. Still, White seems to only display his acting skills when, ironically, his character is acting in a role of his own. The talented Eamonn Walker, on the other hand, does extremely well portraying the bushido-obsessed villain James, who demonstrates a very discernible character arc throughout the film. Gina Carano and Kimbo Slice, who became selling points for the film, are present for only one scene each and Carano speaks only one line, which is to be expected for an MMA-sploitation film as this. Bob Sapp, however, plays a thick-headed villain through most of the film. As in his fights, he plays a two-dimensional heel perfectly, and is subsequently vanquished by our hero during the rising action.

“Blood and Bone” doesn’t really present us with anything new, but it is a quick and entertaining romp through the tough and dirty streets and pit fights. If you don’t expect too much from the story, action, or acting, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the above-average quality of production put into the film. The decision to go straight to DVD was probably a smart one, and makes for great pre-UFC entertainment with popcorn and a good group of friends.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

103 Re-Cap on the Way

Some solid fights, three out of five isn't too bad. Recap and analysis will be on the way, probably posted over the coming week. After that, I've got a review of the new MMA movie, "Blood and Bone," starring Michael Jai White and featuring Gina Carano and Bob Sapp.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

UFC 103 Predictions

Wow, a whole week without posting! It’s been pretty busy, I suppose. Anyway, with only hours to spare, here are my picks for UFC 103: Franklin vs. Belfort.

Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort

Franklin, Rd. 2 by T/KO

People have been talking up Belfort, but honestly Franklin’s just been through tougher battles. The Phenom is good, but I can’t see him breaking down Franklin’s methodical striking and staying power. Fighting in smaller shows for the last couple years and against lower caliber opponents might put him at a disadvantage to Rich, who’s fought five incredible opponents in a row, losing only to the current champion and former Pride champion. I see Belfort gassing out early in the second, then Franklin going to town with strikes from the clinch.

Mirko Filipović vs. Junior dos Santos

Dos Santos, Rd. 1 by T/KO

As much as I love CroCop, I feel like dos Santos is younger, stronger, and hungrier for UFC action. It’s his first big fight, and we’ve seen that he’s more than willing to stand and trade strikes. I see him rushing in and breaking CroCop’s range, keeping the pressure on him while Mirko tries to create space. Junior will either get the takedown and finish there, or will find an opening and knock the Croatian out standing.

Martin Kampmann vs. Paul Daley
Kampmann, Rd. 1 by T/KO

Daley’s tough, but it’s his first outing in the UFC, and Kampmann is looking for a spectacular win to solidify his position as the number one contender for GSP’s belt. Kampmann might very well take the fight to the ground, where Daley seems to have some weaknesses in his game and where Martin has solid submission victories.

Josh Koscheck vs. Frank Trigg

Koscheck, Rd. 3 by Unanimous Decision

I’ve never liked Koscheck much as a fighter, and his performances have been shaky over the last few fights. That said, Trigg’s been out of serious competition for the last couple of years, and has only been able to win decision victories over his last four opponents. I think he’ll be able to hold Koscheck back from doing serious damage, but I still see a dominant performance by Josh Koscheck.

Tyson Griffin vs. Hermes Franca

Griffin, Rd. 3 by Unanimous Decision

Griffin is a tough competitor, even if he lacks finishing power. Another Couture camp fighter, I see him using a strong clinch and takedown game to keep Franca on his back, probably in half-guard ground-and-pound. Franca’s been out injured for a long time, whereas Griffin has been getting Fight of the Night honors almost regularly for a couple years now. Griffin will keep the pace high and Franca will fold under the pressure.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Movie Review: Choke


USA, 1999

Genre: Documentary

98 minutes

A behind-the-scenes look into the lives of three fighters competing in the 1995 Japan Open Vale Tudo Tournament, director Robert Goodman follows kickboxing champ Todd Hayes, shootfighter Koichiro Kimura, and defending champion Rickson Gracie as they prepare and fight for the world championship.

The first thing that struck me about this film was its emphasis on the lives of the fighters and the lives of those around them. Goodman keeps himself behind the camera and scarcely makes himself known at all as he captures the all characters involved in the free-fighting tournament, from the fighter’s family, coaches, and fellow competitors, like the unsung hero Yuki Nakai, who fought through giants to reach the finals while weighing a paltry 135 lbs. The motivations for fighting are broad, and all three of the fighters have incredibly contrasting reasons for entering the tournament.

Kimura, the shootfighter and amateur wrestler, is the youngest and has the least screentime. Still, he has a particularly tender moment with his parents as they learn of his involvement in a tournament with no rules. His reasons for fighting aren’t completely clear, but we get the impression that he’s fighting solely for the enjoyment of doing so, having won several tournaments and trophies in limited rules competition, and now seeks higher and higher levels of competition.

A champion kickboxer, Hayes is fighting for another dream: the 1998 Winter Olympics, where he hopes to win enough money to fund his bobsledding season. His coach, Apollo, is a bit of a tool, and I felt like he was more interested in using Hayes to promote his own martial arts than he was in helping Hayes reach his Olympic dreams. Still, Hayes knows what he wants, and is more than willing to do what he needs to do to get it.

But of course, the hero and selling point of the movie was the pride of the Gracie family, Rickson. He fights not for money or for glory, but to bring credibility to his family’s fighting style. A bit of a diva outside the ring, his athletic prowess is nonetheless terrifying to behold. In the prime of his life, just watching him compete is a phenomenal experience. I think in the modern world of MMA, at times we forget just how good some of the older fighters were, especially after they vanish from the public scene like Rickson did.

The hands-off style of Goodman’s work is fitting for the world of fighters, where actions speak louder than words, and where sometimes life just happens. Touching, terrifying, and inspiring all at the same time, “Choke” is meant for fans and fighters alike, reaching beyond the glitz and the glamour to find the true human stories that take place within the ring.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Movie Review: Ong Bak 2

Ong Bak 2: The Beginning

Thailand, 2008

Genre: Action, martial arts epic

93 minutes

Tien, an orphaned prince, is rescued and trained by a band of pirates from all over Asia, each a master of a different fighting style. Tien becomes the master of all the styles and seeks revenge against the king who killed his family.

Tony Jaa returns in this epic spin off of his breakout hit, “Ong Bak: Muay Thai Warrior.” Not a sequel really, the film takes place in the ancient Thai kingdoms of Ayuutaya and Sukothai. Using some absolutely gorgeous cinematography, Ong Bak 2 draws from the rich cultural history of Thailand to distract from the mediocre dialogue, bland acting, and contrived story. Beyond the mostly forgettable plot, Jaa steps into a directing role for the first time, following a falling out between him and Prachya Pinkaew, the director of Jaa’s first two films. Jaa’s acting hasn’t expanded too greatly from “The Protector,” but he does get to have some tender moments with Cher Nung, Tien’s pirate adoptive father.

Saving the film, of course, is the amazing action sequences and choreography, making full use of Jaa’s phenomenal athletic abilities. He shifts from style to style with impressive ease and believability, keeping the fight scenes fresh and varied. At the end of the obligatory training/aging montage, he fights a Japanese swordsman, a Chinese kung fu fighter, and what I believe is a Shan wrestler. There is also one scene where he uses a combination of drunken boxing and Indonesian Silat to defeat a band of slave traders. To cap off the movie, the climactic fight scene showcases Jaa’s skills against an army of ninjas wielding a variety of weapons and fighting styles (yes, those are ninjas and Tien was raised by a group of pirates, the irony is not lost on me). Not only is the fight fun to watch, Jaa demonstrates a fantastic command of multiple weapons, including the three-section staff, the Chinese jian, rope dart, and his native krabi krabong style.

While not a great piece of cinema, both the cheesy and intense scenes are equally enjoyable, although for different reasons. The ending lands on a cliffhanger, however, which is unsatisfying, but it does leave room for the sequel, Ong Bak 3. I know I’ll be waiting for it in the next couple of years, even if I can’t remember what happened in the last movie.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Movie Review: The City of Violence


“The City of Violence”

Korea, 2006

Genre: Pulp action, mobster

92 minutes

A group of childhood friends return home after one of their own is murdered. Having all went their separate ways, Tae-Su, now a detective, decides to investigate Wang-jae’s death, uncovering a dangerous mobster plot.

Definitely one of my favorite action movies to date, it’s fast, funny, and full of great fights. Doo-hong Jung is one of Korea’s top fight choreographers and action stars. Playing the lead alongside Seung-wan Ryu, the director, the duo’s on-screen chemistry perfectly defines the buddy action dynamic. While I can’t speak too much for the dialogue using only subtitles, the plot is engaging and exciting. All the actors fit well into their roles, Jung as the no-nonsense cop, Ryu as the fast-talking tough guy, Beom-su Lee as the charismatic gangster. It’s a bit of a throwback to 70s cop and action films, with gratuitous violence everywhere.

Doo-hung Jung is pioneering South Korea’s action cinema, choreographing and starring in films like “Natural City” and “Fighter in the Wind” (those will get their own reviews soon!). As to be expected of a former National Tae Kwon Do Master, his fights are full of kicks and acrobatics, but don’t expect to see anything flowery. The choreography, while stylized and full of flair, hit hard and hit fast, sometimes ending before you have a chance to pick your jaw up off the floor. “The City of Violence,” is no exception, and I consider it his finest work yet. It’s a rather short film, so there aren’t very many fights, but it more than makes up for the lack of quantity with plenty of quality. The ending fight scene has Jung and Ryu barrel through hordes of knife-wielding henchmen, all building up to a final confrontation with the big boss. Jung goes over the top with blood and injuries in an almost playful manner, but don’t think for a second it detracts from the fight. Pushing boundaries in the way only a B-movie can, “The City of Violence” satisfies the thirst for entertaining violence every time the craving strikes.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

UFC 102 Analysis Part 5: Couture vs. Nogueira

Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira

Prediction: Couture, Rd. 3 by T/KO

Result: Nogueira, Rd. 3 by Unanimous Decision

Finally, the main event!

Coming into this fight, Nogueira was looking for redemption, to make up for his rather poor performance against Frank Mir. Everyone thought it would be a great match up to see the best Pride submission heavyweight to tangle with the best UFC submission artist. However, an injured knee and a staph infection were apparently the reason he couldn’t deliver the performance we were all expecting. Coming into the main event in Oregon, Nogueira looked fit, he looked healthy, and he looked dangerous. Training with Cuba’s national boxing team drastically improved his hands, and he used his size and reach to significant advantage all throughout the fight. Randy kept looking to close the distance, but Nogueira kept him outside for the better part of the exchanges.

I can’t say for certain what Couture was looking for in this fight. He was relaxed, happy even. He’s said that at this stage in his life and his career, he’s fighting solely for the enjoyment of the sport. And after signing a new six-fight deal with the UFC, it looks like he’ll be doing it for quite a while in the future. It looked like Couture’s main objective was to take advantage of Nogueira’s (seemingly) limited stand-up game, similar to Frank Mir’s fight with the Brazilian. Unfortunately, Nogueira’s boxing looked incredible, even compared to Randy’s dangerous hands. Couture managed to break the range a few times to land hard shots to Nogueira’s head, but Minotauro took the hits without backing down. He went on to land several amazing combinations to Randy’s head and body, throwing a few leg kicks in for good measure.

When striking didn’t work, Couture took things to the cage with his legendary Greco-Roman clinch game. He got the better of Nogueira by pushing him up against the cage and using his dirty boxing to wear out the younger fighter, but this never happened after the first round. Nogueira sunk in a ridiculously tight D’arce choke earlier, but Randy managed to survive through it on what appears to be sheer willpower alone. However, it was not without its toll. By the second round, Randy’s clinches lasted only seconds before Nogueira shrugged him off and started firing punches. The fight went to the ground a few times, b

ut it’s hard to say if any fighter really initiated a takedown attempt. Early in the second round, Couture more or less fell into Nogueira’s guard, then was promptly swept and put on his back.

Nogueira landed some good ground-and-pound of his own, and was almost able to cinch in another choke, this time an arm-triangle. Randy defended it well, though, and managed to get to his feet once again.

In the third round, Nogueira knocked Couture down early with a strong right, then proceeded to dominate the wrestler on the ground with strikes. At one point I though the fight would be stopped, but Randy managed to hold on yet again. After an unbelievable amount of punishment, having his back taken, and defending a rear-naked choke, Couture somehow slipped into Nogueira’s guard, and proceeded to launch his final offensive. It wasn’t able to do much damage, but he did manage to land several hard elbows to the Brazilian’s head. I feel as though Couture should have been trying to pass to half-guard, where his damage potential would have been much higher, but he definitely looked too tired to think of it or execute the maneuver. At the last second, Nogueira swept him again, and the judges awarded him the fight.

Nogueira did prove his worth in the cage with a dominant victory over Couture, and you can bet that his next fight will draw on even larger crowds to witness his return to glory. A rematch with Mir, perhaps, or a title shot against the winner of Lesnar-Carwin. In either case, a healthy and well-rounded Minotauro is a force to be feared.

Couture, even in defeat, still looked incredible as a fighter, regardless of his age. After going toe-to-toe with a man-mountain like Brock, he held off a former Pride champion for three rounds, surviving through two dangerously close submissions and multiple power punches. While he may not feel the need to push for the belt, I’m sure that his fighting days are yet to be numbered, and I pity the opponent that decides to take him lightly.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

UFC 102 Analysis Part 4: Jardine vs. Silva

A real quickie, the main event should be up tomorrow!

Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva

Prediction: Silva, Rd.2 by KO

Result: Silva, Rd. 1 by KO

The co-main event didn’t quite live up to its billing, and Silva performed as powerfully as I expected him to. Jardine looked like he hoped to win the fight early by rushing in with a lot of punches, but none of them looked hard or fast enough to put Silva down. A single leg kick from the Brazilian, however, seemed to keep Jardine on the outside for the rest of the fight. Jardine keeps his hands low and open as he fights, I’m still not sure if it’s just his natural style, or if he’s trying to bait his opponents into rushing in and capitalize on their offensive. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t work with Silva, who moved in quickly and efficiently, countering a body kick easily and taking the fight to the ground.

Jardine is said to have a good ground game, but Silva passed to half-guard relatively easily. Jardine did manage to turn Silva over and bring the fight back to their feet, but it looks like he began feeling frustrated with the way things were going. He began to close the distance and exchanging punches with Silva, which I immediately thought was a bad idea. Swinging wide and not protecting his head, he was floored by a hard left hook counter by Silva. Pouncing on his chance, Silva fell into a sort of open guard position and started laying punches into Jardine’s face, knocking him out on his back.

While he fought hard, I don’t see Jardine as ever being more than a gatekeeper for the light-heavyweight division. He doesn’t have the powerful stand-up game that the top-tier 205ers have, and even if his ground game is underrated, he’s never been able to put it on display for us to see. Really, I can’t imagine a situation where he would ever be in the position to fight for the belt, much less wear it. It’s unfortunate, but unless Jardine can really improve his boxing ability to fight with the likes of Silva and Machida, he’ll be stuck in the middle of the pack for the rest of his career.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

UFC 102 Analysis Part 3: Marquardt vs. Maia

Nate Marquardt vs. Demian Maia

Prediction: Maia, Rd. 1 by Submission

Result: Marquardt, Rd. 1 by KO

And that’s pretty much the entire fight right there. But, I will say right now that I’ve got a lot to talk about for this short little fight. Even if it was only 20 seconds long, a fight is a fight, and as Sun Tzu says, battles are determined before anyone even sets foot on the field.

So what happened? Maia opened up with leg kicks, Marquardt got the rhythm, then timed a perfect counter. In terms of technical skills, it was a great counter, and Maia really needs to keep his hands up when throwing those kicks. Some Muay Thai coaches have their student drop their arms to add more momentum and force to the kick, but I don’t agree with this for the exact reason shown above. We evolved to have a lot of important things on our face, protecting it should always be priority number one. Obviously, it you’re ridiculously talented like Anderson Silva you don’t have to keep your hands up to do so, but we can’t all be Anderson Silva.

I predicted this fight for Maia for a couple of reasons, the first being my impression of Marquardt during his interview, where he kept asserting that his submission game was just as good as Maia’s. This led me to believe he would try grappling with Maia, not getting angry and just punching him in the face. I also thought that Maia’s specialized skill set would prevent him from taking significant damage on their feet, since his past matches have always resulted in him weathering the early storm of strikes to get onto the ground. I overestimated Maia’s chin or I underestimated Marquardt’s power, but it should be known that in this sport, it’s true that anything can happen. If we’re on the subject of Anderson Silva, anyone can just Google up his fight with Ryo Chonan, where a single move makes the difference between victory and defeat.

So why else did I give the fight to Maia? To be honest about my own biases, yes, I tend to favor the grapplers. It’s a belief of mine that skill should beat power, brains should be brawn. This is not to say that Marquardt isn’t skilled or brainy. Simply by looking at the result, Marquardt definitely displayed amazing skill and brains by using a technique he said he had only learned the week before.

What really dazzles me about Maia is a combination of his style and his philosophy behind it. He’s not a violent person, not for a fighter, anyway. He’s said again and again that he’s not interested in hurting people, and you can tell by the way he fights that he wants to win in the least violent way possible. I admire this kind of attitude, a refreshing and welcome change to fighters like Brock Lesnar or Kimbo Slice, who use their power and strength for the express purpose of winning matches violently. I think that Maia’s beliefs about fighting, in addition to his amazing talent for Jiu-jitsu, is what makes him such a favorite of mine.

But this brings up the hard truth of the matter: Maia lost, and lost violently. Does this mean that his style, his philosophy, is wrong? Should we shrug our shoulders and say it was nice while it lasted? Hardly! Maia’s loss means nothing more than that Marquardt saw an opportunity and capitalized on it. It doesn’t discount Maia’s previous fights and victories, and it certainly doesn’t invalidate his way of fighting. Maybe he’ll win his next fight, maybe he’ll be canned from the UFC. Maia, after all, is only human, and humans make mistakes, hit obstacles. But his ideas, on the other hand, will continue to live on, especially as Maia continues to do what he believes in. Regardless of whether it works or not, I think it’s important for fighters like Demian Maia to stay in the limelight. He reminds us that martial arts don’t have to hard-hitting, don’t have to be aggressive. It is, after all, more than just violence.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

UFC 102 Analysis Part 2: Leben vs.Rosholt

Moving right along to the Middleweights!

Chris Leben vs. Jake Rosholt

Prediction: Rosholt, Rd. 3 by Unanimous Decision

Result: Rosholt, Rd. 3 by Submission, Arm Triangle

As I thought, Rosholt did have the better of the wrestling game, and didn’t have enough power to finish Leben off with his fists. However, instead of continuing to pound away, I was surprised to see Rosholt come out with some submission attempts! They weren’t as clean or technical as Maia or Nogueira, but he’s still new and still improving. And even if it wasn’t a beautiful choke, we can clearly see it was very effective.

The fight began with both of them just feeling each other out, neither willing to be aggressive right off the bat. It was good to see the kicks being used, both Leben and Rosholt were working low kicks right from the start. Neither seemed to use them at full strength, but we did see some damage to Leben’s shin as the fight wore on. I’m not sure if those were from kicking or being kicked, they looked more like scratches than bruises to me.

Rosholt eventually started warming up to the fight, getting inside to throw some punches, then some kicks as Leben backed away. Leben nabbed a leg in the first round, though, and managed to topple Rosholt over. I hesitate to call it a real takedown, but it got the job done. Leben had a tough time posturing up, Rosholt kept him down pretty easily, although he ate a lot of body punches. I’m not sure how effective those must be, seeing as very few fighters seem to be affected by them, and I’ve never seen a fighter tap out or get TKO’d from them. Rosholt was quick to get out from underneath as well, working that wrestling explosiveness in the scramble. Leben tried to clinch it up, but Rosholt quickly got the takedown. He got on top and tried working a choke, this was probably the first indicator that his submission game was better than I gave him credit for.

As round two got started, Leben managed to find his range and knocked Rosholt down with some good straight punches. Leben doesn’t use his jab as well as he could, and if he did I think his striking would improve drastically. He was moving it in and out as a range finder, using his leg kick more like a jab than a kick. It’s certainly a different strategy, and it’s not without its benefits, as we’ll see. However, a lead jab is undeniably quicker and more accurate; it would probably increase his chances of landing that big left he loves to throw.

Back to flicking that leg kick out: Leben did use it very effectively, especially as he switched it off with a high kick, followed up by a powerful left straight.

As they clinched up, Leben also utilized the foot stomp a lot, something I think isn’t used as much as it should be in the UFC. I’ve heard stories about people walking out of fights with broken toes and feet from those strikes, although it should be noted that I don’t recall ever seeing someone limp after getting some. As a judoka, I wonder if it would be good to use foot stomps to get people on one foot and set them up for throws. I have yet to see it in MMA competition, but it could work in theory.

Aside from the couple big shots, though, Leben couldn’t hurt Rosholt very much at all. On the bottom, Rosholt kept Leben’s posture down throughout the fight, preventing him from mounting any significant offense from guard or half-guard. Turn it around, though, and Rosholt shoots and scores for the takedown with ease, once at the end of the second round, then again at the top of the third. The third round one was an incredible counter to one of Leben’s low kicks, a great display of timing and execution.

As Rosholt moved effectively through Leben’s half-guard, mount, and side-mount, he was landing big punches from the top and I already knew the fight was going to end soon. Leben was turning his back, a sure sign that the punches are starting to hurt. Then he started putting his arms up in and effort to stop the punches higher up, another signal that the fighter is hurt. Safe fighters “intelligently defend themselves,” meaning that they cover up and keep moving to find a better position. Putting your hands up like Leben was doing is a natural response to pain that humans have, even if it puts us in a more vulnerable position. Rosholt capitalized on this vulnerability and caught one of Leben’s arms, trapping him in the arm triangle and easily moving into side-control.

As for referee Yves Lavigne’s lack of action at the tap, I don’t think he’s entirely at fault. The rule for tapping out is three taps in quick succession and Leben (and if you look back, Brock too in his first fight against Mir) only tapped twice. Then you have to consider Leben’s kicking legs right after the taps. Lavigne is clearly seen getting out of the way, either to protect himself or to allow Leben room to escape (which it may have looked like from the ref’s position). Either way, it was unfortunate that Leben got put to sleep, but it’s not like it’s a real injury. You tap, you nap, then you wake up and everything’s better.

Next time: Marquart and Maia!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

UFC 102 Analysis: Vera vs. Soszynski

Going to be posting these one fight at a time, here's the first!

Brandon Vera vs. Krzysztof Soszynski

Prediction: Vera, Rd.3 by Unanimous Decision

Outcome: Vera, Rd.3 by Unanimous Decision

As expected, Vera’s superior boxing skills were on display for Portland. Soszynski was too slow to land any punches and was unable to close the distance effectively. Vera used his reach to a decisive advantage, putting together some great combinations of punches and kicks, head and body shots. The first kick he landed early in the fight looks like it his Soszynski right in the liver, which could have contributed to the lack aggression and endurance by the Polish fighter.

Vera caught a couple of punches throughout the fight, but none of them did enough damage to keep him down for good. Most of Soszynski’s punches, however, were easily slipped and countered. Vera looked much bigger than Soszynski during the fight, in weight and height. It’s possible that Soszynski had a difficult weight cut for this fight, which also would have contributed to him running out of gas during the third round.

Unable to fight Vera on the inside, Soszynski rushed in to clinch a number of times during the match. Looking for strikes, Vera seemed to neutralize Soszynski’s punches and elbows with some great Greco-Roman clinchwork. Soszynski managed to get the Thai plum (double collar tie) a few times, but the first couple of times were with his back against the cage, restricting him from being able to throw knees effectively. The other times he nabbed the Thai clinch, he seemed just too tired to launch attacks. He went to shoot for takedowns from both in the clinch and from outside, but Vera stuffed them easily. Part of this is Vera’s great wrestling ability (he got a wrestling scholarship to Old Dominion University), and part of this was that Soszynski was absolutely terrible at takedowns that night, reaching down with his hips all the way back, unable to utilize his leg strength.

I’m not sure if it’s because he was tired or because he was frustrated, but whatever the reason, he was neutralized on all but one takedown. The one takedown he did land he managed to power through with upper body strength alone, but Vera got to his feet within seconds. Soszynski was clearly outmatched in all aspects of the fight, from Vera’s clever striking (and beautiful spin combo in round three!) to his powerful clinch game to his newly improved conditioning program. Vera almost had a couple of standing submissions as well, but none were tight enough to put Soszynski in any real danger.

So why couldn’t Vera finish the fight? Soszynski has a solid chin, for one. He ate a number of punches and knees to the face, and a couple of elbows from in the clinch too, probably. Vera also used a lot of body shots to keep him gassed and unable to mount any offense beyond rushing in for a useless clinch game. Vera may have been pulling his punches a bit, afraid to get too close to Soszynski’s powerful hands. However, working in the clinch, I would have liked to see Vera establish a solid Thai plum of his own and work a series of knees. Vera used some knees from over-under positions as he pummeled with Soszynski, but those can only reach up to the thighs, which isn’t as valuable as throwing knees to the midsection or the face.

Regardless, it was a dominant victory for Vera, even if he couldn’t properly close out the fight. Hopefully this newer, tighter, and fitter Vera sticks around and works his way up to the top of the division.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

UFC 102 Results

I managed to get a live audio stream of the fight online, pretty great night for the UFC. Event breakdown and fight analysis will go up after I watch the fights, probably within the next couple days. For now, here are the basic results.

UFC 102 Preliminary Fight Card Results:
Evan Dunham Defeated Marcus Aurelio via Split Decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)
Mark Munoz Defeated Nick Catone via Split Decision (28-29, 30-27, 29-28)
Todd Duffee Defeated Tim Hague via TKO at :07 in Round 1
Mike Russow Defeated Justin McCully via Unanimous Decision (29-28, 30-26, 30-27)
Gabriel Gonzaga Defeated Chris Tuchscherer via TKO at 2:27 in Round 1
Aaron Simpson Defeated Ed Herman via TKO at 0:17 in Round 2

UFC 102 Main Fight Card Results:
Brandon Vera Defeated Krzysztof Soszynski via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
Nate Marquardt Defeated Demian Maia via Knockout at 0:21 in Round 1
Jake Rosholt Defeated Chris Leben via Technical Submission at 1:30 in Round 3
Thiago Silva Defeated Keith Jardine via Knockout at 1:35 in Round 1
Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira Defeated Randy Couture via Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)

Just a few quick words:
Rosholt can tap people out!
Maia needs to keep his hands up.
Couture's will and heart is second to NONE.

Friday, August 28, 2009

UFC 102 Predictions

With UFC 102 on the horizon, I figured this would be a good time for my inaugural event prediction. While I’m certainly not a professional (at least, not yet), I like to consider myself pretty knowledgeable on fighters, camps, and mixed martial arts in general. I’m only going to go ahead and do the main card, because I’m not particularly familiar with a lot of the undercard fighters. Maybe when I know more of these guys I’ll do the undercard along with the main card. These picks are based on my own opinions, and you’re free to debate them with me in the comments.

Chris Leben vs. Jake Rosholt

Rosholt, Rd. 3 by Unanimous Dec

I’m not terribly fond of Leben as a fighter, I don’t think he’s ever really impressed me too much technically. He’s got a good wrestling base and can certainly bang it out, but I don’t think his wrestling is good enough against Rosholt’s, who is a three-time NCAA champ, and has been training with Xtreme Couture for a couple years now. On the other hand, Leben’s got tons more experience than Rosholt, and this will probably help him survive most of the fight. I see Rosholt dominating in the clinch, probably getting a lot of takedowns and some ground-and-pound, but I don’t think it’ll be enough to finish Leben off.

Brandon Vera vs. Krzysztof Socynski

Vera, Rd.3 by Unanimous Decision

Socynski is a very dangerous challenge for Vera, who’s just getting out of a huge slump in his career. Socynski hits hard, has a great top game, and even if he doesn’t have the best jiu-jitsu, he’s probably got the Kimura as good as any black belt. Vera, however, is no stranger to hard-hitters, going the distance against Tim Sylvia, who’s one of the biggest fighters the UFC has ever seen. I think Vera’s kickboxing is better than Socynski’s, and I don’t know if Socynski will be able to power through for a takedown. I think the fight will stay standing, and we’ll see Vera pull off a dominant victory.

Nate Marquart vs. Demian Maia

Maia, Rd.1 by Submission

If you asked me a week ago about this fight, I would have told you that Marquart would keep the fight standing and maybe even score a TKO or decision victory. But after watching UFC’s 102 Countdown, I think Nate’s got a bit chip on his shoulder about people disrespecting his ground game. It’s not that his jiu-jitsu is bad; it’s just that Maia’s is so much better. I think he’s going to try and prove something by tangling with Maia on the ground in the first round (probably after a Maia sweep or takedown), and then getting caught by a submission. If Marquart keeps his cool, I do think he can pose a big threat to Maia with his big power and clinch fighting.

Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva

Silva, Rd.2 by KO

Jardine’s a great fighter, and is very difficult to train for, but I really do see Silva just walking right through him. Silva went on a 13-fight winning streak (with 10 knockouts and 2 submissions, one to ground-and-pound) before finally losing to Lyoto Machida, who happens to be the current champion and one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world.

A lot of people talk about how Jardine’s beaten some of the best in the world, with wins over Griffin, Liddel, and Vera, but he’s also lost to top fighters like Jackson, Wanderlei, and Houston Alexander. All of the fighters he lost to were very similar to Silva, packing big power in the hands and constantly pushing the action. Silva may not have faced the very best in the division, but judging by his record, I’d say he belongs up there with them.

Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira

Couture, Rd.3 by T/KO

Tough fight to call, for sure. Two living legends, the very best of the sport. On one hand, Couture has incredible power in his hands and is one of the best wrestling-style fighters in the world. Incredible endurance and conditioning, coupled the ability to use the Greco-Roman clinch to wear down his opponents, makes him the winner of just about any war of attrition. No one doubts the fighting ability of this 46 year old, and anyone who does should try spending even just one round wrestling with him.

However, even after all that’s said and done, Nogueira is probably the only person able to take everything Couture can dish out, and then still throw some crazy armbar or leglock for a tide-turning victory. If you’ve seen his fights in Pride, Nogueira has taken punches from people like Dan Henderson, Fedor, and Tim Sylvia, and even a full-on head kick from Mirko Cro-Cop, and still can keep on fighting. The first time that Nogueria was ever knocked out was by Frank Mir last year, after ten years and 37 fights. Granted, we haven’t seen Nogueira at the top of his game lately, and it’s possible that all the punishment he’s taken is catching up with him. But if we do see a strong and well-conditioned Nogueira tomorrow night, I can guarantee that Couture will have his hands full trying to stop this man. I think Couture has the tools and conditioning to beat Nogueira eventually, but I feel like it’s going to go all the way down to the wire before he can finish him, if he can at all.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Fedor's Fighting Philosophy

Fedor isn't what you'd expect of a top caliber fighter. He's chubby and round, hardly physically imposing. He's soft-spoken and articulate, and he's always smiling. Looking at him, you half-expect him to be greeting you at Best Buy or bagging your groceries, not hitting mitts or throwing armbars. If you’ve seen him train, or heard him comment about his training, it’s not particularly spectacular. A little boxing, a little grappling, then some push-ups and pull-ups, a fair bit of running. Definitely not the vicious conditioning and sparring you’ll see on UFC’s Countdown shows. He's disarmingly unassuming, shy even. People expect fighters to be like Brock Lesnar, fierce and powerful, more mountain than man. Fighters should be bold and adventurous, proud and sensational.

So what makes Fedor Emelianenko such a big deal?

He doesn’t fight with the jaw-dropping talent of Anderson Silva, nor does he have the flawless technique and execution of Georges St. Pierre. He’s not the super-athlete like Lesnar or Shane Carwin, he’s not the caged tiger like Wanderlei Silva or Sean Sherk. He walks to the ring calmly, even as chaos surrounds him. If you’re lucky you might catch him crack a smile here or there as he prepares for battle, but mostly his face is blank and unreadable. Truly, the only person who knows what Fedor Emelianenko is thinking at those moments is Fedor himself.

So what makes this man the most feared fighter in mixed martial arts?

The answer lies in those exact moments. He likely knows that he’s not the biggest or strongest, not the most skilled or even the most aggressive. It’s likely that it is because he knows all this that he pushes forward, to fight against the steepest of odds, to come back from the deepest of dangers, to throw punches until his hands break. His determination to always fight back, to never give his rivals a moment to rest—this is what makes him a dangerous fighter. He uses controlled aggression in one solid burst beginning when the bell starts and ending only when the ref pulls him off the limp body of his opponent. And as soon as it’s over, he’s the first one to shake hands with the man he’s beaten, a smile on his face once again.

It’s been said that Fedor’s never been truly tested by the top competition, but I contend that this is untrue. If you watch his fights, even the short ones, it rarely looks like he has an easy night. He gets hit frequently, and often finds himself in dire straits as his opponent starts working the game plan. But somehow, by constantly pushing the pace and forcing the action, he finds his one opening, his one chance at victory, and he pounces on it as soon as he can.

There’s a lot we can learn, as fighters and as people, from this method, because as unsophisticated as it seems, it continues to win him fights.