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.