Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Reel Deal on Dan Hardy

Today we're looking at Dan Hardy, who is in the final preparations for his title fight against the UFC welterweight king, Georges St. Pierre. It's a tall order to fill, since GSP is widely touted as being the most complete mixed martial artist of all time. One of the pound-for-pound best, St. Pierre is a frightening combination of precision striking, world-class wrestling, and black belt level jiu-jitsu. He's faced down wrestling champions like Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck, BJJ black belts like Matt Serra and BJ Penn, and striking machines like Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves. It's hard to imagine anyone at 170 beating him at this stage in his career.

Joe Rogan and Dana White have been hyping the fight by talking about Dan Hardy's top-level striking abilities, where he's supposed to have an advantage over GSP. GSP's last loss was a TKO to Matt Serra back in 2007, so it makes sense that Hardy would at least have the proverbial puncher's chance. Still, if we take a look at the record, the chance of KO really isn't as high as people would want us to believe.

Firstly, St. Pierre has only ever been knocked out once, which was the aforementioned loss to Serra. Since then, he has all but cleaned out the 170 pound division, with his last defense against power striker, Thiago Alves. Alves is much bigger and stronger than Dan Hardy, but was simply unable to stop GSP's takedowns. Now, Hardy is definitely a good balance of technique and power, even working with esteemed boxing coach Freddie Roach for his last couple of fights. still, it's not like Alves is just a big guy with nothing but power, so let's not discount his technical abilities. For a fighter with 60 percent of his wins by knockout, Alves was only able to land three significant strikes on the feet during the five rounds he spent with St. Pierre, and none of them put the champ in any trouble.

Since we're talking about a knock out shot here, let's take a look at Hardy's own record. Prior to his debut in the UFC, he had 10 combined knockouts and TKOs, along with 2 submissions to strikes, over the course of 26 fights. Since debuting in the UFC, although he has won all four of his matches, he only has one KO to his name. His fights have been against steadily tougher and tougher competition, further reinforcing the much higher level of talent that Dana White keeps in his stable. Hardy has managed to knockdown his opponents with strong counter-strikes, such as in his fights with Marcus Davis and Mike Swick, but I have to wonder whether or not he has the finishing power to score the KO against GSP.

It's just hard to imagine Hardy having the tools to knock out St. Pierre with those kinds of odds, especially when you compare him to real power strikers at 170 like Alves or Paul Daley, who have made their careers on maintaining high KO numbers. Not to say that Hardy doesn't have the power to do the deed, I just wouldn't bet the house on it.

I should say that it's not like he has absolutely no chance against the champion. The first GSP/Serra fight proved that a fighter can really win on any given sunday, even if the odds are stacked against them. Dan might put his tenth planet system to work after a takedown and pull off one of Eddie Bravo's crazy submissions, or he might even get that one good shot that puts an the champ to sleep.

The point is that it would be foolish to assume that he has the knock out power to give him any significant advantage in this fight. Maybe against lesser fighters this advantage might be more pronounced, but against an elite fighter like georges st pierre, he doesn't have that luxury. Hardy needs to level up his game in all areas of the cage, and not rely on the off-chance that he might get in one or two lucky shots.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Magic of the Nippon Top Team

It's late and I can't sleep, so I've been watching fighter highlights. It doesn't usually help, but it does keep me entertained for a while. Tonight, I'm sharing with you the Nippon Top Team, a superhero group of three elite Japanese submission artists in MMA.

First is Satoru Kitaoka, former Sengoku Lightweight Champion.

While not as popular as his teammates, don't think for a second he's not dangerous. Kitaoka beat Takanori Gomi (the last Pride 155lb. king) for SRC's first Lightweight Grand Prix, submitting Clay French and Eiji Mitsuoka to get there, then beating Kazunori Yokota in a grueling decision to face Gomi for the belt. A master of Catch Wrestling and Jiu-jitsu, his favorite subs are the Guillotine, Achilles Lock, and Heel Hook.

Now we go to the small man of the group, Masazaku Imanari.

I would say that Imanari is the most dangerous of them all, simply because of his specialty in leg-locks. He is known as "Ashikan Judan," which translates to "Master of Leg-locks." For those not in the know, by the time you can feel the pain of one of those nasty subs, it's already doing terrible damage to your joints and muscles. He's the former DEEP Featherweight Champ, and current DEEP Bantamweight and Cage Rage Featherweight Champion.

And the leader of the pack, regarded as the second greatest 155lb. fighter on the planet, Shinya Aoki.

Aoki is probably the most conventional grappler of the team, if only for the fact that he goes for armbars and triangles instead of leg-locks every other round. A master of flying armlocks and the rubber guard, he's known for having absolutely no mercy for his opponents, and has broken the arms of a few competitors already. The most recent victim was Mizuto Hirota at the SRC vs. Dream event last New Year's Eve, where he broke Hirota's shoulder with a Hammerlock. The current Shooto Middleweight, WAMMA Lightweight, and Dream Lightweight World Champion, he'll be fighting Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce 155lb. belt to add to his impressive collection.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Musings on Joshua Clottey

There's really not much else to be said for the fight itself. Manny showed up to win, Joshua Clottey did not. For twelve rounds, Pacquiao chased his opponent around the ring at a measured pace, throwing a constant stream of punches. The fighting pride of the Philippines threw more jabs than he has ever done in a single fight, leading into combinations to the body and head, against and through the tight defense that Clottey is famous for. The Ghanaian opened up his shell just enough to throw a strong right cross on a number of occasions, creating a welt under Manny's right eye. However, without the power to knock the champion out with one punch, he was unable or unwilling to capitalize on this very limited success.

It has been said of Joshua Clottey many times before that he simply does not have the hunger necessary to become champion. Against Miguel Cotto, he lost a competitive decision to the more aggressive fighter. Against Pacquiao, he barely managed to keep the fight competitive at all. But the bigger question is, what does it take to get that sort of hunger?

From an objective point of view, Clottey is a very good boxer. He is strong and balanced in his skill set, and fights conservatively against boxers who with real knockout power. A more risky fighter would probably have been knocked out against both Pacquiao and Cotto, but Clottey chose to absorb less punishment, thereby preserving his career and his health. Are these not desirable traits for fighters?

In the end, it boils down to finding your place on the totem pole. While Joshua Clottey is clearly a good boxer, with his fighting style he has to be willing to concede the superiority of top-level contenders. It's even possible that it works the other way around, that he gave up dreams of the highest echelons long ago, and thus developed this very conservative style. In either case, this will forever remand him to the position as a gatekeeper in the boxing world: someone to test hungry young fighters who are looking for a shot at true greatness. Maybe Clottey is a aware of this, maybe he isn't. While it is easy to criticize him for not wanting it enough, it's possible that he doesn't want it in the first place. I'm sure he makes a very comfortable living for him and his family, and will probably be able to keep doing so with his approach to combat. Although we fans love fighters with that all-or-nothing attitude, I must respect Joshua Clottey's decision for taking a safe route when looking at the bigger picture.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

WEC 47 Review

The WEC's revolving door of champions continues to spin-- a testament to how competitive the lighter weight divisions are in the sport of MMA. A night of great fights and pulse-pounding upsets, tonight will certainly change the course of the bantamweight division.

Javier Vazquez def. Jens Pulver (Armbar, 3:41 of Rd 1)
It was hard to see Jens go down so early, marking his fifth loss in a row, and fourth in a streak of first round finishes. The fans of Pulver have gathered around the slogan "Forever Relevant" since career began to slide, but now I wonder just how much truth that has left in it. Obviously, no one can take away what he has done for the sport. He is and will forever be a legend in MMA. Still, after falling on such hard times as a fighter, perhaps it would be better for him to pass the torch on for good. I'm sure at this point he would make a much better coach or trainer than a fighter.

Joseph Benavidez def. Miguel Torres (Guillotine Choke, 2:57 of Rd 2)
Benavidez definitely earned himself a new fan after tonight. Coming in as a heavy underdog, no one expected him to take the fight to the former champ like he did. Torres looked more than a little shaky coming into the fight, which I'm hoping was a case of ring rust from his seven month layoff. After a lot of good action in the first round, Joseph hit a beautiful double leg takedown in the middle of the second, following up with a vicious elbow that opened Miguel up like a fountain. In the ensuing scramble, Benavidez quickly seized an arm-in guillotine choke that won him the Submission of the Night. It is likely that this victory will move him up for a title shot against the new 135 lb. champion, Dominick Cruz, whom he lost to last August.

[Update: I didn't realize how bad the Benavidez had cut Torres, but now a photo has surfaced showing the extent of the damage. It's not for the faint of heart, click here to see it.]

Dominick Cruz def. Brian Bowles (TKO due to doctor's stoppage, 5:00 of Rd 2)
A dazzling display of footwork and counter-punching was put on for two rounds as Dominick Cruz danced his way into the bantamweight championship. Bowles was definitely a game fighter, but seemed to lack the technical skill to compete with Cruz, who constantly cut new angles and landed a variety of counter-rights and low kicks. While not as crisp and composed as fighters like Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida, Dominick's boxing skills are definitely something to watch out for. Currently undefeated as 135 lbs. (and his only loss coming from Uriah Faber at 145), Cruz continues to improve, and I think he just might stick around as champ for a long time.