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March 29, 2007

'Dynamite!! USA' joint MMA event

This has undoubtedly been a momentous week with the announcement Tuesday of the merger of elite MMA leagues UFC and PRIDE under the ownership of the Fertitta brothers.  What may have gone unnoticed was the announcement the same day by Pro Elite Inc. (parent company of EliteXC), FEG (parent company of K-1), and Showtime TV that they are holding a joint event on June 2 at the 92,000-seat L.A. Coliseum. 

This ambitious joint event, dubbed "Dynamite!! USA", will feature a fight between 7-foot-2 South Korean Hong Man Choi -- a K-1 Asia champion -- and Brock Lesnar, a former NCAA and WWE wrestler.  In addition to these fighters, other announced fighters include aging MMA legend Royce Gracie and ex-pro football player Johnnie Morton as well as Jake Shields, Antonio Silva and Gina Carano.

According to a press release, the event will have three fights televised on Showtime from 9 p.m. EST until 10 p.m. EST.  At 10 p.m. EST, the coverage will switch to Showtime pay-per-view for up to six more fights.

With PRIDE and UFC under the same ownership group now, I think the only logical conclusion to draw is that the second-tier leagues will have to work together to be successful.  I believe this event in LA will be the first of many joint events among these and other leagues.

And, it appears these other leagues may already be entering into more long-term, formal agreements to help offset the the UFC-PRIDE alliance.  According to Ken Pishna of MMAWeekly.com, there is already an "others" alliance (my term) forming between K-1, Cage Rage (Europe's oldest MMA league), Pro Elite, BodogFight, Strikeforce, and SpiritMC (South Korea's biggest MMA league). 

It will be very interesting to see how these alliances play out and what effect they have on the sport, both from a business standpoint and from the perspective of the fighters and the fans.  The "others" alliance consists of some formidable leagues located strategically throughout this country and the world, with some TV deals already in place, so I wouldn't count this alliance out.  However, with UFC and PRIDE clearly the most recognizable names in the industry and home to the best stable of fighters, I wonder what the "others" alliance will do to put on appealing fight cards and attract fans to their events.

The June 2 event at the LA Coliseum will be the first test for the "others" and should provide a strong indication as to whether there is room in the world of MMA for two competing global alliances.

Posted by at 8:25 PM | | Comments (1)
        

March 27, 2007

ANALYSIS: UFC owners buy PRIDE

On Saturday, an earthquake in Japan left at least one dead and numerous injured.  Today, more seismic activity originated in Tokyo and this time the tremors were felt by the world of MMA as it was announced that the Fertitta brothers, owners of the parent company of UFC, have reached an agreement to buy PRIDE -- their rival Japanese organization -- from Dream Stage Entertainment Inc.  Rumors of such a buyout have been rampant over the past few months, especially with PRIDE beset by problems such as the loss of Fuji TV as a sponsor and the league's purported links to the Japanese mob.  Those rumors heated up significantly over the last 10 days, culminating in the Tokyo press conference on Tuesday in which the deal was officially announced.  According to the AP story,

"To buy the company, the brothers created a new entity called Pride FC Worldwide Holdings LLC. The newly formed company will take over Pride assets, including its trademarks, video library and valuable roster of fighters, from Dream Stage. The Fertitta brothers, who own Las Vegas-based Zuffa LLC, the parent company of UFC, intend to keep the well-known Pride name and promote fights under that brand."

According to a report by Scott Petersen of MMAWeekly.com, PRIDE's current President Mr. Sakikabara will step down after PRIDE 34 on April 8.

This deal drastically changes the landscape of the global MMA scene.  With that in mind, let's take a closer look at what this could mean for MMA fans, fighters, and organizations alike.

  • Rather than competing against each other for the same fans, the Fertittas can now utilize both leagues synergistically to complement each other and broaden the MMA fan base both in the US and abroad.  The combined resources of the two already-elite leagues can be spent more judiciously -- not on combating each other, but rather expanding both brands without fear of impingement from the other brand.
  • MMA fans are often divided in their loyalties to PRIDE or UFC.  With this arrangement, these loyalties can be still maintained because both brands will apparently remain in their current form.  PRIDE will be run independently of UFC and its basic organizational structure will be kept intact, meaning future PRIDE events should still look much like PRIDE events of the past. 
  • The one change the Fertittas did say they would make is to standardize the rules between the two leagues.  PRIDE will now adopt the unified MMA rules of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and will also have the same weight classes as UFC.  This is a good change because for MMA to be a truly global sport (and one day an Olympic sport as some hope), unified rules are a must.
  • Another change the Fertittas announced is the introduction of a Super Bowl-like mega-fight card between the two leagues once a year.  Such a fight card would apparently feature the title holders from both leagues in all the weight classes, effectively crowning overall champions for the year.  This may be the single biggest attractive byproduct of this deal for the fans.  Instead of wondering about such fights, we will have the opportunity to see them on an annual basis.
  • As a journalist, I'm hoping that the deal benefits the US media by making PRIDE more accessible to us.  UFC is very receptive to dealing with the mainstream media and I imagine that attitude starts at the top with the Fertittas.  I hope the brothers infuse the same sort of openness in the PRIDE organization, which is notorious for not having a good relationship with the US media.
  • I'll be curious to see how the fighters are affected by this deal.  Will we still see fighters crossing over between the two organizations?  Will the two organizations engage in bidding wars over fighters to garner their services?  How will fighter salaries be affected by this deal?  And how will this deal affect the contracts of those such as Nick Diaz who is an EliteXC fighter, but was allowed to sign with PRIDE for a two-fight deal?
  • And finally, what will become of the other MMA organizations such as K-1, Cage Rage, IFL, and EliteXC?  UFC and PRIDE under one ownership umbrella is a very imposing thought.  How can these other organizations compete against such a behemoth?  Will we see mergers between them as well?  Many MMA fans may have missed it, but today EliteXC and FEG -- the parent company of K-1 -- announced a joint event to be held at the L.A. Coliseum on June 2.  There have also been rumors online of a potential deal between K-1 and Cage Rage.  I believe today's deal is only the beginning of organizational realignment in the world of MMA. 

However all this plays out, the repercussions of today's news out of Tokyo will be felt not only for the next few months but for years to come.

Posted by at 9:41 PM | | Comments (1)
        

March 22, 2007

Weekly MMA Digest (Week of March 19)

Let's take a look back at what people were talking about this week in the world of mixed martial arts:

  • According to Sherdog's Josh Gross, PRIDE USA President Ed Fishman has sued Dream Stage Entertainment -- the parent company of PRIDE -- for about $10 million for breach of contract.  These monies include $1 million over five years for consulting fees and approximately $9 million Fishman feels he is owed as part of his 10 percent cut of gate receipts over the next five years for PRIDE events held in the US. Allegedly, PRIDE still hasn't paid Fishman for the past two events it held in Las Vegas (last November and this past February).
  • A report by Sherdog's Greg Savage and Josh Gross appears to indicate that UFC is on the verge of buying out PRIDE in some form or another. The details and terms of the potential agreement seem a bit sketchy right now.  No official word has come down from either UFC or PRIDE about such a deal.  PRIDE is reportedly under quite a bit of financial strain and Dana White told me in a January interview that if PRIDE is for sale, he is interested in purchasing the Japanese league.
  • Sherdog's Greg Savage is reporting that sources close to the situation say that Chuck Liddell will indeed be defending his UFC light heavyweight title against Quinton Jackson on May 26 at UFC 71 in Las Vegas. Jackson -- as many of you already know -- is the only fighter Liddell has fought and never defeated.
  • OCRegister.com is just now reporting that Diego Sanchez failed a drug test at the December UFC fight night in which he defeated Joe Riggs.  According to the article, Sanchez tested positive for marijuana and has already paid a $500 fine and served his 3 month suspension. This means that Sanchez will still face arch-rival Josh Koscheck at UFC 69 April 7 in Houston. The revelation logically leads to a couple of burning questions.  1) Do Sanchez and Nick Diaz have the same trainer?  And 2) will their marijuana-tinged decisive victories lead others to take up their smoke and snack training regimen?
  • And finally, this tidbit is not related to MMA at all but it's equally important.  I'm a University of Maryland grad so it's my obligation to share a particular video that is quite popular on YouTube right now.  Thanks to Sun columnist Rick Maese for unearthing this treasure on his blog.  I've had the video on endless loop since I first read about it Wednesday. Go to YouTube or Google and type in "This is why Duke sucks" and enjoy!  Be forewarned that the humor on the video is a bit raunchy, but it's clever nonetheless.
Posted by at 8:14 PM | | Comments (0)
        

March 21, 2007

Ring of Combat tournament update

Last Friday (March 16), Ground Control Baltimore fighter Binky Jones went to the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City to take on Jay Estrada in a Ring of Combat lightweight tournament semi-final match.  Jones won the three-round match by unanimous decision over Estrada.  Two judges gave Jones the victory 30-27 and one judge gave Jones the victory 29-28.  According to Jones, in an email after the fight, "It was a pretty good fight [but] my jiu-jitsu was too much for [Estrada]. I hit three beautiful sweeps on him."

Jones goes back to the Tropicana on April 27 to fight in the finals of the Ring of Combat tournament.  His opponent in the finals will be Ian Loveland, a Team Quest fighter, who defeated his semi-final opponent Rich Boine via tapout due to guillotine choke at 1:22 of round one.  Many of you probably know that Team Quest is also home to MMA superstars Randy Couture, Matt Lindland, and Dan Henderson.  Still, Jones promises, "I will be bringing the title back to Baltimore."

In other Ring of Combat news, fellow Ground Control fighter Tenyeh Dixon did not fight in his middleweight bout on Friday.  Dixon was injured during training and withdrew from the fight. 

Posted by Chris Handzlik at 8:41 PM | | Comments (0)
        

IFL Battleground episode 2 -- battling for an identity ...

IFL and MyNetworkTV aired their second two-hour offering of IFL Battleground this past Monday night and after the generally harsh criticism of the premiere episode by most of the online MMA media, I tuned back in to see if any changes had been made to the program from week one to week two.

First, let's look at the improvements made in episode two:

  • IFL and MyNetworkTV clearly heard the rumblings in the MMA media about the gratuitous violent imagery in episode one, including the teasers about a fighter being taken off on a stretcher , the ambulance sirens, and the 911 call.  This week, there were no such images or teasers.
  • There were more onscreen contextual clues given during the fights themselves.  The fighters names and trunk colors were flashed on the screen at the beginning of each fight.  The round and time elapsed were shown at the beginning and the end of each fight.  Why not display the clock the entire match?  I surmise this is not done because the fights are edited and not shown in their entirety. 
  • I like interactivity the program introduced by asking viewers to vote online at IFL.com on the controversial ending to the fight between Alex Schoenauer and Aaron Stark.  I believe the referee erred in this instance by being indecisive and first acting as if he was about to end the fight and then allowing the fighters to continue.  Although Stark looks like he is about to tap out, he never actually does.  If anything I would rule that fight a no-contest.
  • There was more ground fighting shown in this week's fights.  Ground fighting is big part of MMA and I feel that episode one relied too much on showing only striking.  Episode two expanded on this with more footage on the ground.
  • The commentators did a better job of explaining the rules as the fights were occurring.  For example, they explained that fighting near the corners is usually stopped and fighters are moved to the center of the ring where they assume their previous relative positioning.

Despite the improvements, I feel there are still more things the producers can do to further improve the program:

  • Tell a story!  One reason The Ultimate Fighter brought UFC so many new fans is because the reality show told a very easily understandable story while introducing the viewers to new fighters.  IFL should look at IFL Battleground as a similar vehicle that can tell the story of its teams, coaches, and fighters.  Right now, the viewers are being given a lot of fights, but there's little setup between the fights, and even less context for why the matches are being shown.  There is a very helter-skelter feel to the whole episode.  It is very difficult to keep track of when and where the fights are taking place and why they are supposed to be important.
  • Show the entire fight. In order to do mixed martial arts justice, new viewers need to see the entire fight, not simply a highlight reel version of the fight.  MMA fights are struggles that ebb and flow.  New viewers would be better served by being shown the entire struggle rather than being fed only the knockout punch or the submission attempt.
  • Bring us more behind-the-scenes footage.  This relates to telling a story.  Rather than trying to pack in 11 fights in an episode, pace the episode better with about 6-8 fights and fill in some of the behind-the-scene details and fight setup with interviews, training footage, and more in-depth examination of what the teams and fighters are like outside of the ring.  Tiffany Fallon was supposed to be a co-host for this show and I assume her role would have been somehow tied to this aspect of the program.  However, in two episodes, I don't know that I've seen Fallon once.

Overall, IFL appears willing to accept criticism and make changes to their program.  However, I still believe there is more work to be done.  More than anything else, the episodes need to feel more coherent and a better job needs to be done in telling a story rather than trying to squeeze as many fights as possible into the two-hour slot.  IFL has a great opportunity with IFL Battleground to attract more fans to the league and to MMA.  It would be a shame if such an opportunity was wasted.

I will continue to watch the show over the next few weeks and I will post an entry in a month or so to let you know if I think IFL Battleground has made the necessary changes to keep viewers tuned in.

Posted by at 8:46 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 16, 2007

Weekly MMA Digest (Week of March 12)

Folks, welcome to a special March Madness edition of the digest.  The Terps men survived Davidson and Duke lost on Thursday, so I'm in a good mood (citizens of Terp Nation know what I'm talking about.)  Rest assured that my ensuing celebration did not deter my ability to bring you some of the top news from around the world of mixed martial arts for this week. Here's my Final Four for the week:

East Bracket: Baltimore's own Binky Jones of Ground Control Academy heads up to Atlantic City this Friday, March 16, to face Illinois' Jay Estrada in a Ring of Combat lightweight tournament semi-final match at the Tropicana. Jones was a TUF season 2 alternate and is looking to win this tournament and make a statement in his quest to get to the big show. Fellow middleweight Ground Control fighter Tenyeh Dixon fights New Jersey's own Alexis Aquino in a preliminary bout. I profiled Ground Control, Binky Jones, and co-owner John Rallo in a January article.  Take a read if you are interested in some of the history behind Baltimore's biggest MMA academy.

Southwest Bracket (aka Vegas Bracket): According to NBCSports.com's Mike Chiappetta, UFC 70 -- being held at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England, on April 21 -- will be televised on Spike TV and will be tape-delayed from the event's 2 p.m. EST start to 9 p.m. EST. For a supercard to be televised on basic cable is a big step for UFC. Chiappetta goes on to report in the same article that UFC was hoping to have a deal with HBO ready for UFC 70. However, when that deal could not be completed in time for UFC 70, the promotion opted for Spike TV to televise the event. Here is the UFC 70 fight card currently posted on UFC.com.

Midwest Bracket: Miletich Fighting Systems fighter and former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia talked to me by phone about a number of topics, though he wouldn't talk specifically about his loss to Randy Couture at UFC 68.  He talked about his back injury, his current frame of mind, and who he wants to fight next if he doesn't get an immediate title rematch.  Click here for the full interview.

West Bracket: The IFL visits the Forum in Los Angeles March 17 for two more matches leading up to the team league's championships. The fight card features 4 teams in competition: Tokyo Sabres (coach: Ken Yasuda) vs. Southern Cal Condors (coach: Marco Ruas) and L.A. Anacondas (coach: Bas Rutten) vs. San Jose Razorclaws (coach: Frank Shamrock).  This ends a busy week for IFL, which launched its IFL Battleground show on MyNetworkTV this past Monday.  While I saw some good points in the show along with things I didn't quite like, the consensus in the online MMA media appears to be that the show needs quite a bit of work.  It will be interesting to see if IFL responds to the criticism and makes changes to the program in the coming weeks.

Posted by at 7:31 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Q&A with UFC's Tim Sylvia

I interviewed former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia on March 13. While he wouldn't discuss his UFC 68 loss to Randy Couture, Sylvia did answer questions on a wide range of other topics such as his back injury, his feelings about the UFC 68 crowd booing him, and who he wants to fight next if he doesn't get an immediate title rematch.

Click here for the entire interview.

Posted by Chris Handzlik at 1:57 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Q&As
        

March 14, 2007

EliteXC's Gary Shaw discusses Nick Diaz and more

Former UFC lightweight Nick Diaz stunned the mixed martial arts world Feb. 24 when he defeated PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomi in a non-title fight at PRIDE 33. His impressive second-round submission victory was later tarnished by reports that Diaz  -- recently signed by EliteXC but allowed by that league to fight in PRIDE 33 -- failed a drug test the night of the bout. 

I talked to EliteXC President Gary Shaw March 12 to discuss Diaz’s reported positive test result, Diaz’s future with EliteXC and EliteXC’s next event.

MMAWeekly.com reported March 5 that a Nevada regulator said that Nick Diaz tested positive for marijuana at PRIDE 33. Can you confirm that Diaz tested positive for marijuana at PRIDE 33?

I can only confirm what the Nevada [State Athletic] Commission [has stated], which is that he tested positive for marijuana.

As far as you know, has Diaz received any penalty from the Nevada State Athletic Commission?

As far as I know, he has not been called to a hearing yet.

Do you know when that hearing might happen?

No, I don’t, but I’m waiting for notice from the commission.

Will EliteXC do anything to punish Diaz in any way for his positive drug test?

No, absolutely not.

So, whatever punishment Diaz receives from the commission is all that will happen?

Correct.

Is Diaz still an important part of EliteXC’s future plans?

Absolutely, he’s a huge part of it. We all believed in him. We all believed that he could beat Gomi. Cesar Gracie kept telling me [Diaz] was going to beat Gomi and then he beat Gomi …

Have you talked to Diaz since the test results came out?

Yes, I flew him to -- I had a boxing match [between Israel] Vazquez and [Rafael] Marquez [for the WBC super bantamweight title fight on March 3] at the Home Depot Center in Carson [, Calif.] -- and I flew him to that fight.

What was the nature of your conversation with him?

It was actually the first time I met Nick and was introduced and I told him how proud I was of him for the great victory [over Gomi] and what an exciting fighter he is. That was basically it -- it was short. 

At that point, had the drug test results come out?

No, if they did, I didn’t know about it at that point.

OK, so you didn’t talk to Diaz about the drug test results at all?

No, absolutely not.

About Diaz’s contract, I understand that Diaz first signed with EliteXC and then he was allowed to sign a deal with PRIDE. What is Diaz’s contract with EliteXC?

We have a minimum three-fight deal. We have rights beyond three fights. 

What do you mean by “rights beyond three fights?”

We have the right to make other offers, to match any offers, and we believe that’s an important part of our company and our strategy. But at the same time, we’ve proved to the world that if you sign with EliteXC, EliteXC will let you fight in other big shows and look what happened. 

What is Diaz’s contract with PRIDE?

I believe they want to do two fights and they’ve already done one.

So, he has one more fight left with PRIDE?

Right, but we have the right of approval on the [PRIDE] opponents.

I wanted to switch topics and talk a little about your May 5 event.  Do you have any more details on that, for example location or fight card?

We’re switching to June. 

Do you have a specific date for that?

I do, I just can’t talk about it, yet. I’m not permitted. It’s going to be beyond EliteXC and it’s something you’ll be excited about. 

- Pramit Mohapatra

Posted by Chris Handzlik at 5:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Q&As
        

March 13, 2007

A look back at IFL Battleground's premiere episode

The International Fight League (IFL) and MyNetworkTV premiered their first episode of the weekly two-hour show IFL Battleground Monday. I was very curious to see what the first mixed martial arts show on network TV would look like so I tuned in for the two-hour program.

Here are my thoughts after watching the premiere episode:

  • I thought the program did a good job of introducing viewers to mixed martial arts as well as to the IFL. Over the course of the two-hour show, viewers were introduced to all the IFL teams, coaches and team members.
  • I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were nine fights re-played from the 2006 season, including fights from the championship match.
  • Most of the fights aired on the program showcased stand-up technique (punching and kicking), while ground fighting was shown only sparingly.  I suspect IFL wanted to show viewers an exciting brand of MMA action, and for most new fans excitement is synonymous with striking. I hope over time, however, that IFL will take this opportunity to slowly introduce fans to the technical aspect of ground fighting because MMA is not just kickboxing.
  • There weren't as many interviews or behind-the-scenes vignettes in this first episode as I thought there would be. I imagine future episodes will have more of these types of segments. Since IFL is a fight league, I can understand starting with fights in the first show and moving on to more behind-the-scenes reporting in later shows.
  • I felt that the viewer discretion warning at the beginning of the show and Bas Rutten's warning about not trying these moves at home were appropriate. But, what I found strange was the constant emphasis on violence and aggression that followed throughout the episode.  The viewer was constantly teased about the last fight ending with a fighter leaving on a stretcher. The reason I found this strange is that I didn't quite understand who these images were supposed to appeal to. Longtime MMA fans already know what sort of action the sport delivers so I can't imagine that the imagery of violence was aimed at them. And considering the IFL is trying to appeal to a mainstream audience -- an audience that is wary of MMA because of the no-holds-barred stereotypes of the sport -- I can't imagine IFL was trying to appeal to casual or new fans with that imagery. So, who was the IFL appealing to with the constant emphasis on violent imagery?
  • From a production standpoint, the fights themselves suffered from a lack of appropriate onscreen "contextual clues." For example, I would have like to have seen both fighters' names and teams on the screen at all times. I also wanted to see the round number and time elapsed on the screen. And finally, I would have liked to have seen the dates and locations of the fights in the upper corner of the screen.

All in all, I think this was a good first episode and a good introduction for new fans of MMA and of IFL. I look forward to future episodes where we will hopefully get to learn more about the fighters and the coaches.

What did you think of IFL Battleground's premiere episode?  Do you think this show did a good job of introducing MMA to mainstream America?

Posted by at 10:10 AM | | Comments (0)
        

March 11, 2007

IFL brings MMA to network TV on Monday night

EliteXC's debut event on Feb. 10 was historic because it was the first time a live mixed martial arts (MMA) event was televised on premium cable, on that night Showtime.

Now, the International Fight League (IFL) -- a team-based mixed martial arts league with 12 teams from all over the US and big-name coaches such as the Shamrock brothers, Bas Rutten, and Pat Miletich -- crosses yet another threshold as it brings its product to network television.  This will mark the first time an MMA show has ever aired on network television.

Monday evening (March 12) at 8 pm, the IFL debuts its weekly two-hour show IFL Battleground on MyNetworkTV.  According to wikipedia, MyNetworkTV is owned by News Corp. and is a sister network to the Fox network, though it operates separately. The MyNetworkTV network covers 96% of the United States and its affiliate lineup is made up of former WB and UPN affiliates.

In the Baltimore area, the MyNetworkTV affiliate is WUTB 24.  In the Washington, DC area, the affiliate station is WDCA 20.  For a list of affiliates throughout the country, click here.

IFL Battleground is co-hosted by MMA star Bas Rutten as well as 2005 Playmate of the Year Tiffany Fallon.  According to the IFL website, the program will bring viewers behind-the-scenes footage, exclusive interviews as well as fights.

This is a historic night for mixed martial arts and I plan on catching the show Monday night.  I'm hoping some of you out there do as well and I'd be interested in reading your feedback on the first episode.  In addition, I'll be curious to see what sort of ratings the show does and I'll make sure to get you those numbers when they are made available. 

Posted by at 2:24 PM | | Comments (0)
        

March 8, 2007

Weekly MMA Digest

Here's a roundup of some of the big news from around the world of mixed martial arts for this past week:

  • Newly-crowned UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture, fresh off his historic UFC 68 victory over Tim Sylvia, made the media rounds this week. Perhaps a sign of things to come, Couture did both a TV interview and an online chat with fans for ESPN.
  • According to MMAWeekly.com, UFC light heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell's bizarre appearance on a TV show -- Good Morning Texas -- last week was due to a combination of NyQuil and sleep aid pills. Apparently, Liddell had been feeling sick for awhile and hadn't made it to the doctor. He was trying to get some sleep the night before the interview. If you missed it, here's the YouTube video of the interview. Liddell is now on antibiotics for pneumonia and is taking it easy. 
  • According to Ivan Trembow of MMAWeekly.com, Nick Diaz failed a drug test at PRIDE 33.  The drug he tested positive for was marijuana. The bad news just keeps on coming for PRIDE. First, their lightweight champion, Takanori Gomi, loses a non-title match to the UFC castaway, Diaz. Then, we find out Diaz's training regimen for that fight consisted of bong hits and super-sized bags of Doritos.
  • According to the AP, UFC light heavyweight star Tito Ortiz will be fighting his boss, UFC President Dana White, in a long-awaited three-round boxing match on March 24.  Apparently, video of White training for the fight convinced at least one Nevada regulator (the commission chair) that White is a better boxer than Ortiz. This fight will be aired on UFC.com.
  • And from an IFL press release, IFL will be debuting a two-hour show -- IFL Battleground -- on MyNetworkTV starting next Monday, March 12. I'll have more on the IFL and the debut of this show next week. But for now, you should know that 2005 Playmate of the Year Tiffany Fallon is one of the co-hosts of the show (along with Bas Rutten.) Why? Because, she's the 2005 Playmate of the Year, that's why.
Posted by at 9:48 PM | | Comments (0)
        

March 6, 2007

UFC 68 recap: Winners and losers

Now that the dust has settled somewhat on UFC 68, let's take a look back at some of the night's biggest winners and losers.

Winners

UFC

While I typically like to hand out superlatives for individual performances, the UFC as a collective whole shined the brightest on March 3.  UFC 68 featured an excellent fight card in a town that was clearly hungry for top-notch MMA action.  On a weekend that featured at least two other major events in Columbus, Ohio -- the Arnold Classic as well as the Ohio high school wrestling tournament -- UFC 68 not only sold out Nationwide Arena, but the fans packed the place before the undercard bouts began.  The crowd was enthusiastic and the fights showcased the best of mixed martial arts action.  With one title fight and three former UFC champions (including a Hall of Famer) on the card as well as a number of fighters from in and around Ohio, the UFC showed some nice depth in its fight card lineup.  And, of course the atmosphere was absolutely electric during the Couture-Sylvia heavyweight title match. 

With UFC intent on taking its show on the road, UFC 68 was a very promising harbinger of good things to come.  UFC 69 is in Houston and UFC 70 is in London.  So, it won't be until May 26 at UFC 71 when the circuit returns to the friendly confines of Las Vegas.  However, UFC 68 showed everyone that the promotion will likely be OK as it takes its product to fans who otherwise may not be able to make the trek to Vegas to attend their events.

Honorable Mentions

Randy Couture

There is no doubt that Randy Couture's victory over favored incumbent Tim Sylvia was the biggest individual story of the night.  In his first fight since coming out of retirement, Couture looked quicker than Sylvia (despite being over 10 years older), Couture was more accurate with his punches, and Couture was more active defensively, bobbing and weaving and ducking and dodging Sylvia's punches all night.

Couture had a very good gameplan and executed it to perfection.  He was in control from the moment he landed the early right to Sylvia's face and looked comfortable standing up as well as shooting Sylvia's legs and taking him to the ground.  Couture won every round of the match and deserves to be the new champion, despite what many (including this reporter) said before the fight.

Matt Hamill

Matt Hamill -- a Cincinnati native -- had the crowd on his side from the moment he entered the arena for his fight against Ohio State graduate Rex Holman.  The fans clearly appreciated the efforts of Hamill who perseveres despite the handicap of being deaf.  In fact, Hamill appears to embrace his deafness, accepting it for what it is, but not allowing it to define who he is.  He showed that same toughness in the Octagon in his fight against Holman. 

Though Hamill -- the former TUF 3 fighter -- came into the UFC with the reputation of being a strong wrestler, he showed in UFC 68 that he is becoming more and more comfortable on his feet.  He looked very willing to stand up against Holman, but when he decided to take the fight to the ground, he did so effectively and finished the fight easily, throwing undefended punches while on Holman's back.

Hamill showed after the match that he has a great rapport with the fans, treating them to what has become a trademark whoop at the end of his interview with Joe Rogan.  His charisma and his unique story as well as his development as a fighter have Hamill pushing his way up the ranks, on the verge of joining Rashad Evans, Keith Jardine, and Michael Bisping as TUF light heavyweights who appear to be an integral part of the future of that division in the UFC. 

Losers

Tim Sylvia

The old adage says, "The bigger they are, the harder they fall."  Unfortunately, for Tim Sylvia, the former champion not only fell hard in the Octagon but also in the court of public opinion Saturday night.  Sylvia trains with the Miletich Fighting Systems in nearby Iowa, while Couture grew up in the Pacific Northwest and has spent much of his career fighting out of Oregon (though he now resides in Las Vegas.)  Yet, Sylvia enjoyed absolutely no home-field advantage -- he was booed when he entered the Octagon and he was booed in his post-fight interview.  What made matters worse for the deposed champion, though, was his post-fight comments about having an injury coming into the fight.  That comment was clearly a mistake, as even UFC President Dana White admitted in the post-fight press conference.

Still, even that transgression could be forgiven if Sylvia had been able to endear himself to the fans during the fight.  However, what fans saw was the same fighter they had seen in Sylvia's two previous title defenses against Jeff Monson and Andrei Arlovski.  Sylvia seemed very hesitant to attack and allowed Couture to dictate the tempo of the match, which Couture was very willing to do.  Even in the final round, when Sylvia must have known he would need a knockout or submission to win, there appeared to be no sense of urgency in Sylvia's approach.

It will be interesting to see what Sylvia does going forward.  How will he recover from this loss?  Will he change his game plan going into fights and attack the way he did when he was coming up the ranks?  And, what will he do to repair his "image problem" -- as Dana White called it -- with the fans?

Posted by at 8:12 PM | | Comments (0)
        

March 4, 2007

UFC 68 Post-Fight Press Conference

UFC President Dana White and some of the assembled fighters revealed the following at the post-fight press conference:

  • The attendance at the arena, according to White, was 19,049 earning a gate receipt of over $3 million.  According to White, the attendance makes UFC 68 the No. 1 MMA event in North American history and the No. 1 event in the history of Nationwide Arena.
  • It appears that White has every intention of bringing UFC back to Ohio -- both Columbus and Cincinnati -- based on the overwhelming response to UFC 68.
  • White suggested that the April 21 card from Manchester, England, could be on non-pay-per-view television.
  • White alluded to some sort of ESPN involvement with the April 7 card from Houston.
  • When asked what injury Sylvia had going into his fight against Couture, White said he didn't know and admitted that Sylvia has an "image problem" and that Sylvia was "overconfident" coming into the fight.
  • According to Matt Hughes, who was also at the press conference and is Sylvia's camp-mate, Sylvia had a back problem going into the fight and had considering not fighting.
  • White revealed that Chuck Liddell has pneumonia right now and said that he will be visiting Liddell in San Luis Obispo in the coming week to find out Liddell's status.
  • White called Brandon Vera "young" and "cocky" and said that Mirko Filipovic had asked to fight Vera but White won't give Vera that fight as long as Vera only has one fight on his contract.  White appeared confident that Vera would indeed re-sign with UFC
  • White lamented the influx of what he calls "sleazy" boxing guys who are entering the MMA space, though he called this influx inevitable.
Posted by at 12:24 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Heavyweight Title Match: Randy Couture (222.5 lbs) vs. champion Tim Sylvia (263 lbs)

Rage Against the Machine's Killing in the Name is one of the tunes playing before this match. 

Randy Couture receives a standing ovation as he enters the Octagon. Tim Sylvia enters the arena to the music of Jesus Walks by Kanye West and to the boos of the crowd. The atmosphere is electric in the way only a title match can be. Potentially five rounds of war coming up.

Flash bulbs pop and the crowd chants "Randy" as Couture stuns Sylvia with a solid right that sends the champ reeling early in the first round. However, on the ground, Sylvia is able to stabilize even with Couture on his back. The crowd boos as the action on the ground grinds to a halt. Sylvia somehow survives the entire first round fending off Couture's attempts at a rear naked choke. The round goes to Couture but I believe the psychological edge goes to Sylvia for surviving the stunner.

The crowd chants "Randy" early in the second round but Sylvia appears to be back to his gameplan of keeping the fight standing up. The fight ends up on the ground with Couture on top but Sylvia keeps him in full guard, weathering punches from Couture. The crowd boos as McCarthy stands the fighters up but Couture gets one more takedown just as the round ends. Couture appears to have a good gameplan and I give him round two as well.

Couture appears very comfortable standing up with Sylvia in the third round. Couture ducks and dodges Sylvia's punches and lands his own, picking his spots as the entire third round is fought standing up. I give Couture the third round as well. It would appear Sylvia can no longer win by decision.

Couture starts round four with a takedown. After inactivity, the fighters are stood up. Couture lands some more punches before taking Sylvia back down and gaining side control. Couture gains full mount but Sylvia gains control as the round ends. Couture wins the fourth round as well. Time is running out for Sylvia to hold on to his crown.

Couture starts the fifth round with -- guess what? -- a takedown. He controls from half-guard and the crowd senses what is happening and repeatedly chants "Randy" in unison. Couture moves to side control and time ticks away as Sylvia can do nothing to reverse his position. The two fighters briefly stand up before Couture converts another successful takedown. With under 30 seconds left in the match the crowd know what is about to take place. Round five and the belt go to Randy Couture.

The pro-Couture crowd is jubilant. The official announcement is a formality to them. Once again Sylvia does nothing notable in the match but this time he pays for it.

I have it 50-45 Couture.

In his post-fight interview, Couture says "Not bad for an old man" (he's 43.)

Sylvia is booed by the crowd during his post-fight interview, especially when he mentions that he came into the fight with an injury.

Official Result: Randy Couture is the new heavyweight champion by unanimous decision (50-45 on all three judges' scorecards.)

Referee: Big John McCarthy

Ringside tidbit: When Bruce Buffer says "sold out" Nationwide Arena, I think he's easily right.

Posted by at 12:54 AM | | Comments (1)
        

March 3, 2007

Middleweight: Drew McFedries (185 lbs) vs. Martin Kampmann (185.5 lbs)

This match brings the energy level down a little bit in the arena as fans get ready to expend the rest of their reserves during the heavyweight title showdown.

But both fighters provide fireworks of their own to start the first round, staying on their feet and punching and kneeing away until Kampmann takes McFedries down to the canvas. Kampmann takes control on the ground achieving side control and north-south control before finally digging deep with a choke that ends the fight.

McFedries, who appeared in control standing up, lays on the ground for a few minutes after the match as Ohio State Athletic Commission doctors tend to him.

Official result: Kampmann wins by submission due to arm triangle at 4:06 of first round.

Referee: Herb Dean

Posted by at 11:57 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Middleweight: Jason MacDonald (183.5 lbs) vs. Rich Franklin (185 lbs)

Rich Franklin is from Cincinnati and gets a nice ovation from the crowd as he approaches the Octagon. Franklin enters to AC/DC's For Those About to Rock We Salute You.

The first round begins fairly evenly. Franklin clearly wants to keep the fight standing and does so successfully until very late in the first round, when MacDonald takes Franklin to the ground. Franklin looks to be in control as the round goes on as he lands a number of punches. I give Franklin the first round.

Fans boo whenever the projection screens show Anderson Silva.

Franklin continues to land punches in the second round. MacDonald, on the other hand, cannot take Franklin down. MacDonald attempts what appears to be an armbar submission but Franklin reverses much to the delight of the fans. Franklin grounds and pounds and controls from the top but MacDonald hangs tough. Franklin ends the round with a flurry of punches from the top position. I give Franklin the second round.

At the end of the second round, MacDonald's corner decides he's had enough and stops the fight, giving Franklin the victory.

After the fight ends, middleweight champ Anderson Silva enters the Octagon and hugs Rich Franklin. Fans boo Silva mercilessly during his interview with Joe Rogan.

Official result: Rich Franklin wins by TKO at the end of the second round

Referee: Herb Dean

Celebrity watch: Ken Griffey Jr. is in the house as is fellow baseballer Adam Dunn. 

Posted by at 11:46 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Welterweight: Chris Lytle (169 lbs) vs. Matt Hughes (171 lbs)

DMX is playing on the PA system during the intermission before this match. 

Matt Hughes comes out to his usual theme song of Country Boy Can Survive and deafening cheers from the crowd. The main card is definitely on.

Hughes takes the fight to the ground early and that's where the two fighters work for most of the first round. But the the crowd gives the two fighters a standing ovation at the end of the first round for what was a very entertaining round. Hughes controls the action in the first round from the top -- even gaining side control at one point -- but Lytle does make a couple of choke attempts from bottom position. I give Hughes the first round especially because he almost finishes Lytle off as time runs out, but it was a very close round.

As the second round begins, Hughes' game plan is clear: take the match to the ground.  Hughes gains side control again and pounds on Lytle. Hughes follows with ground and pound from full mount. Lytle reverses and ends up on top. The action is back and forth and the fans appreciate it. Chants of "Let's go Hughes" periodically erupt from the crowd. Both rounds have been close so far but I give Hughes the second round as well.

Early in the third round, Hughs again gains side control early on. But as the action on the ground slows down, fans become restless, booing and hoping the ref will stand the fighters back up. Boos rain down from the crowd as the match ends with a brief flurry. Fans are definitely not please with the way the match was reffed. I give Hughes the final round as well because he was on top most of the round and controlled the entire round though he couldn't finish Lytle off.

Lytle didn't do much in this match but he was a survivor, fighting from the bottom the almost entire match. 

I give Hughes the victory 30-27. 

Official Result: Hughes wins by unanimous decision (30-27 on all the judges' cards.)

Referee: Mike Matheny

Posted by at 11:14 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Light heavyweight: Jason Lambert (204 lbs) vs. Renato Sobral (204 lbs)

What energy in the arena.  It looks like the UFC has unleashed a new promotional video and it has the fans pumped up. This is the first fight of the main card, being televised on pay-per-view.

Sobral begins the first round with a flurry and takes Lambert to the ground, even attempting a rear naked choke. But Lambert gets the fight back on its feet and drops Sobral to the ground with some nice punches and knees. Sobral looks hurt at the end of the first round. The crowd roars as the first round ends. The first round is too close to call.

In the second round, Lambert controls the fight on the ground, grounding and pounding before referee McCarthy stands the two fighters back up. But the fighters aren't up for long as Lambert devastates Sobral with a punch that knocks out Sobral and keeps him on the ground for a couple of minutes after the fight has ended.

Official result: Jason Lambert wins by KO at 3:36 of Second Round

Referee: Big John McCarthy

Celebrity watch: I went back into the Media workroom to get some food from the buffet before the main card began (UFC treats the press very nicely ...) but there wasn't any food left.  However, UFC President Dana White was back there, mingling and taking pictures with fans and other members of the press alike.  Also spotted along the way were middleweight champ Anderson Silva, who was engulfed by fans who wanted to take pictures with him, including one lady who had some skin signed (I'll leave it up to your imagination where the skin was.)  Also spotted was light heavyweight Keith Jardine.

Unknown referee mystery solved: The ref for the 1st and 3rd matches of the undercard was Mike Matheny. Thanks to the UFC for that information.

Posted by at 10:49 PM | | Comments (1)
        

Light heavyweight: Rex Holman (205 lbs) vs. Matt Hamill (202.5 lbs)

This is a match I've been waiting for and apparently so have the fans as the two fighters are introduced on the projection screens. Holman was a champion wrestler at nearby Ohio State University and Hamill is from Cincinnati and is well-known for being in TUF season 3.  This is a borderline main event match even though it is officially listed as an undercard match and may not be shown on the pay-per-view telecast.

Hamill, who is deaf, is given a standing ovation during introductions. Considering these are two former college wrestlers, they appear to be very comfortable on their feet. Hamill controls the fight, attempting a couple of superman punches before bull rushing Holman to the ground. Hamill then gets on Holman's back before punching Holman a number of times in the back of the head, forcing referee John McCarthy to end the match. The crowd is jubilant with Hamill's victory and gives him another standing ovation. 

The crowd appears to be hanging on Hamill's every words during the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan. Hamill ends the interview by saying, "Matt the Hammer Hamill will be here for a long, long time."

Official result: Hamill wins by TKO at 4:00 of 1st round

Referee: Big John McCarthy

Posted by at 10:03 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Welterweight: Luigi Fioravanti (171 lbs) vs. Jon Fitch (171 lbs)

The UFC has event production down to a science. The audio and video on the six projection screens is crisp. I'm very impressed with the level of enthusiasm of the fans here and these are just the undercard matches. 

The fans are clearly in the corner of Purdue grad Jon Fitch in this one.  Fitch appears to control the first round, taking Fioravanti to the ground before Fioravanti patiently gets the fight back on its feet. I give the first round to Fitch.

In the second round, Fitch executes a Matt Hughes-esque slam that draws cheers from the fans and finishes off the fight with a rear naked choke that has Fioravanti tapping out at 3:05.

Official result: Fitch wins by tap out due to rear naked choke at 3:05 of 2nd round

In his post-match interview with Joe Rogan, Fitch says he wants to fight Karo Parisyan next. 

Cool ringside fact: The press is given the judges' scorecards for the earlier two fights during this fight.  Nothing special.  The scorecards are blank forms with the judges' handwriting on them, scoring each round and signed by each judge at the bottom.

Posted by at 9:25 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Gleison Tibau (155.5 lbs) vs. Jason Dent (156 lbs)

The arena is packed and loud with pounding music and fans screaming and cheering.  One thing's for sure -- Columbus loves MMA and UFC.

Jason Dent is from Ohio and gets a nice ovation when his name is announced. The fans answered one question I had early on in the first round when they booed what they perceived to be a long period of ground inactivity with Gleison Tibau on top in the half-guard.  The fans then chanted "stand them up" in unison. When Referee Herb Dean did finally stand the two fighters up, there was a loud cheer across the arena. Tibau controlled the first round with at least one takedown and ground control.

In the second round, Tibau again has no problems taking Dent to the ground and gaining control from the half-guard. Tibau attempts to ground and pound from his position. Dent clearly wants to stay standing up but can't prevent Tibau from shooting his legs and taking him down. Again, Tibau wins the second round in my estimation. 

Entering the third round Dent must know he can't win a decision. Still, Tibau takes Dent to the ground and it's a repeat of the first two rounds as Herb Dean has to stand the two up. But, the two are back in their familiar position with Tibau on top in the half-guard, grounding and pounding away.

By the end of the match, the fans are restless and can be heard chattering. They boo what they perceive to be a boring match.   

I score the match for Tibau 30-27.

Official result: Unanimous decision victory for Tibau (30-27 on all three judges' scorecards)

Referee: Herb Dean

Posted by at 9:02 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Lightweight: Jason Gilliam (155.5 lbs) vs. Jamie Varner (155.5 lbs)

According to arena personnel, the configuration for this event can hold about 16,800 people and the event is a sellout. With the first match of the night under way, most of the seats are already filled.  These fans sounded ready from the beginning for a good night of action. They cheered loudly when Bruce Buffer began introducing the first fight.

The first match of the night was a quick one as Jamie Varner took Jason Gilliam to the ground early and dominated him from there.  Varner ended up on Gilliam's back and attempted two rear naked chokes, locking in the second one to end the fight at 1:34 of the first round.

Match referee: I'm not sure who the ref is -- I've never seen him in other UFC matches.  I'll try and find out who he is for you.

Posted by at 8:34 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Octagonside at UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio

Folks, I'm settled in here at the Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.  This is a beautiful arena and it's beginning to fill up right now with the first fight about 30 minutes away.  I've survived the wet, slushy conditions earlier in the day and managed to find a parking spot despite the fact that UFC 68 is sharing Columbus this weekend with the Arnold Classic and the Ohio High School Wrestling Tournament.

Doors opened to the public at 7:30 p.m. EST.  The first undercard bout is scheduled for 8:15 p.m. EST.  The pay-per-view card goes live at 10 p.m. EST.

There is a lot of press here at the event -- 35 other members of the media Octagonside with me and more in an overflow room under the arena.

Early on, I'll be watching the crowd, looking for their reactions to various aspects of the fights.  Stay tuned for recaps of all the fights.  I'm here for the long haul.

Celebrity watch: Joe Rogan -- comedian and UFC commentator -- walked by press row around 7:40 p.m. and stopped to wave at some adoring fans in the stands.

Fun fact: Columbus is in the Eastern time zone, as is Detroit (which the Detroit airport public address system reminds you of on a very regular basis.)

Posted by at 7:46 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Welcome to the MMA Insider blog on baltimoresun.com

Welcome everyone to baltimoresun.com's newest blog -- MMA Insider. My name is Pramit Mohapatra and I've been covering mixed martial arts for baltimoresun.com for the last few months, writing a number of articles including one-on-one interviews with Tito Ortiz, UFC President Dana White, and EliteXC President Gary Shaw

This blog will allow me to provide you with more news about the growing sport of mixed martial arts (MMA). It also allows you to comment on and debate the sport with each other and with me. With this blog, I hope to bring you closer to the world of MMA and answer questions that are on the minds of all MMA fans. 

I will be Octagonside for UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio, covering the event for baltimoresun.com. Here's the event preview I wrote breaking down five of the fights I will be focusing on. Please check back March 3 to read my live blog posts from UFC 68.
Posted by at 12:53 AM | | Comments (0)
        
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Kevin Richardson has been a fan of mixed martial arts competition ever since UFC 3, when 600-pound sumo wrestler Emmanuel Yarborough was beaten by Keith Hackney. Kevin will cover the world of MMA — in Baltimore, nationally and internationally. He plans to take readers into the locker rooms and MMA schools, where they'll hear from local fighters and trainers. If you have a news tip or suggestions for the blog, please e-mail him.

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