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April 28, 2007

Binky Jones is the Ring of Combat lightweight champion

Baltimore's own Binky Jones (Ground Control Baltimore) is the Ring of Combat lightweight champion.  Jones (now 3-1 in MMA competition) secured the title by defeating Team Quest's Ian Loveland (7-6 MMA record) Friday night at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City.  According to the Ring of Combat Web site, Jones forced Loveland to tap out due to armbar at 3:17 of the first round.

Jones defeated Charles Wilson and Jay Estrada -- both by unanimous decision -- in the first two rounds of the tournament to advance to the title match.

I will be speaking to Jones in the next day or so about his impressive victory and about the next step in his MMA career.

Posted by at 6:02 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 27, 2007

Weekly MMA Digest (Week of April 23)

So, how popular is MMA (and UFC in particular) these days?  Let's take a look at some of the numbers that came out this week:

-- Spike TV released viewership numbers for UFC 70 earlier this week.  While the numbers were good, I wasn't blown away by them, especially considering this was a PPV-caliber show airing on basic cable.  The telecast averaged 2.8 million viewers and peaked at 3.5 million viewers for the main event fight between Mirko Filipovic and Gabriel Gonzaga.  These numbers are considerably lower than what the Spike TV live telecast of Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock did last Fall (average viewership for that event came in at over 4 million viewers with a peak of over 5.5 million.)  Still, according to Spike TV, UFC 70 drew more viewers in the desired 18-34 male demographic than any other show during that time period on either broadcast or cable TV.

I think UFC 70 viewership was hindered by the fact that there were no title fights on the card and the card was tape-delayed by about 8 hours (meaning some fans already knew the results of the fights at the time of the telecast.)  In addition, I think the card wasn't as strong as the UFC 68 or UFC 69 cards, with a couple of very good but relatively unknown fighters such as Gabriel Gonzaga and Fabricio Werdum in the two main fights.  I think another factor is that UFC 70 took place only two weeks after UFC 69, so maybe fans had had their fill of UFC PPV-quality events for the month. 

-- According to an MMAWeekly report by Ivan Trembow, TUF viewership is apparently on the decline, with TUF 5 numbers approaching TUF 4's low benchmark.  This is a bit disturbing to me, because I think TUF 5 is actually quite good.  It's possible that the TUF show is now played out in the minds of fans or that two seasons a year is just too many for even the hardcore MMA fans.  The TUF numbers -- as well as the UFC 70 numbers -- possibly hint at the notion of UFC overexposure, though it is way too early to make that claim.  Still, is too much of a good thing always a good thing?

-- The news does get better for UFC.  According to a recent study conducted by Complete.com charting hits on major sports league websites, UFC is the sixth most popular sports league on the web, currently dueling NHL for the fifth spot.  UFC.com is averaging about 1 million hits per month, which is an increase of 106% over last year (this percentage increase makes UFC the fastest growing league on the web.) While UFC still has a lot of work to do to catch up with the fourth-place NBA, this is undoubtedly great news for the MMA promotion and indicates that interest level in the league and the sport is still increasing at a torrid pace.

-- Alas, the good news is somewhat tempered by the revelation this week that fighters in both UFC 69 and UFC 70 were NOT drug-tested.  Steve Sievert broke this news over at the Houston Chronicle and he did some fantastic reporting on this one.  Apparently, mix-ups in Texas with the state licensing board did in the testing at UFC 69 and MMA is not currently sanctioned in the UK which resulted in the lack of testing at UFC 70. 

Regardless, UFC should be prepared for such possibilities and have a procedure in place to do their own comprehensive testing when the licensing boards are not equipped to do so (preferably, the promotion will contract out the testing to an independent third-party tester).  I'll give UFC a pass on this one because growing pains are inevitable.  However, drug use is front-and-center in sports in this country and this sort of revelation doesn't help the UFC.  Hopefully, the promotion will rectify the issue quickly and we won't hear about this sort of negligence again.  Integrity in the sport is very important as MMA tries to gain mainstream acceptance.  Dana White has done some amazing things over the last couple of years but this is a misstep that should be handled swiftly.

Posted by at 12:03 PM | | Comments (1)
        

TUF 5 episode four recap

In the first few weeks of the show, the events at the TUF house were just as notable as the elimination matches themselves.  Week four of the reality show was a change of pace because very little of note occurred in the house.

Instead, all the intrigue in episode four was provided by the matchup between Andy Wang (Team Penn) and Brandon Melendez (Team Pulver).  With Team Penn down 3-0 going into this match, coach BJ Penn was clearly looking for answers to right the ship.  I think he felt this matchup was one that could bring Team Penn its first victory -- but only if Wang stuck to their game plan.

Wang was at a decided size disadvantage against Melendez.  Melendez was four inches taller, much heavier, and had an 11-inch reach advantage.  Melendez was therefore looking to keep the fight standing up where he would have the edge with his striking.  Wang, on the other hand, is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt.  Given his physical shortcomings and his ground expertise, it appeared a no-brainer that Wang would try to take the fight to the ground.  And that's what Penn and long-time friend Gabe Ruediger implored Wang to do before and during the match.

Instead, the stubborn Wang fell into what is apparently a familiar trap for him and got caught in a brawl.  Wang rarely attempted a takedown against Melendez and lost a unanimous decision.  It was a close fight because Melendez didn't do very much himself.  But, based on Dana White's and BJ Penn's reactions after the fight, I don't think there were too many people sad to see Wang go.

Why?  The answer lies in the responses both White and Penn gave after the bout.  From their perspective, Wang -- despite all his talents -- appeared to be uncoachable.  He knew what he needed to do to win the fight and yet he didn't do it. 

Wang's performance should serve as a lesson to any up-and-coming athlete or MMA fighter.  Ability and physical tools are only part of the recipe for success.  In order to rise to the top of any profession, intelligence and strategy play very key roles.  As MMA gets bigger and bigger, the disparity in athleticism between fighters will continue to narrow.  What will separate fighters is their ability to design effective game plans and their ability to execute those game plans. 

Wang had a good game plan -- take Melendez to the ground.  But, he didn't ever try to execute it.  If TUF is a job interview for future UFC fighters, Wang failed miserably.

And so, Team Pulver is now 4-0.

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Here are some other tidbits from episode four.  Matt Hughes made a surprise visit to help coach Team Pulver.  Hughes helped his image with his appearance in the episode -- he was self-effacing and he looked at ease around the other fighters.

Also, we found out that Team Pulver's weakest fighter might be Wayne Weems, who apparently doesn't have a strong background in MMA.  Team Penn's Ruediger tried to sell Penn on the idea of fighting Weems for his elimination bout.  Of course, Team Penn needs to win first before they can dictate the matchups.  Predictably, Ruediger's attempts to pick up an easy fight caused tension among the other teammates.

And finally, Team Pulver's Marlon Sims made a hilarious reputation for himself as an exaggerator.  Sims reminisced to his housemates about his exploits as a "Steven Segal"-like streetfighter.  And the other guys weren't buying it.

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Is anyone else annoyed with the Burger King "Spongebob No Pants" commercial?  It was cute the first dozen times I saw it.  But now, I have to turn down the volume and look away every time it comes on.  It's just not working for me.

Posted by at 10:29 AM | | Comments (0)
        

April 25, 2007

Binky Jones discusses his upcoming Ring of Combat title fight

Ground Control Baltimore fighter Binky Jones will be heading up to Atlantic City Friday to fight in the title match of the Ring of Combat lightweight tournament.  His opponent in the finals -- which takes place at the Tropicana Casino and Resort -- is Ian Loveland of Team Quest. 

Jones reached the finals by defeating Charles Wilson in the first round and Jay Estrada in the second round, both by unanimous decision.  Jones is 2-1 in his MMA career and was also an alternate in the second season of Spike TV's UFC reality show, The Ultimate Fighter.

Although Jones is busy preparing for his upcoming match, he took time out from his training schedule to answer some pre-fight questions by e-mail.

What do you know about Ian Loveland and his style of fighting?

I know that he's from Team Quest and he's the Greco-Roman wrestling coach for them, and that he likes to ground and pound.

How do you feel you match up with Loveland?

I believe this is a good match for me because I can use my jiu-jitsu techniques against his wrestling techniques.

What will winning the Ring of Combat tournament mean for you and your MMA career?

This will be [the] biggest fight of my career. By winning this tournament, I will show everyone that I am pretty good because I wasn't supposed to make it past the second round of the tournament. It will also give Baltimore,Team Ground Control, and [me] a lot of exposure.

Do you have a prediction for your title fight against Loveland?

I plan to make him submit in the first round or just beat him the same way I did my other two opponents -- by decision.

For this Friday's Ring of Combat fight card, click here. Also, check out a previous article I wrote on Jones and Team Ground Control.

Posted by at 6:41 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 23, 2007

UFC 70 analysis: Is this the era of parity in the UFC?

After what has taken place this year in the UFC, Dana White is looking a lot like the Paul Tagliabue of MMA.  Tagliabue -- as many football fans know -- built the NFL into a league where parity rules the day.  The phrase "On any given Sunday ..." is commonly heard on autumn Sundays and for good reason: The truth is that on any given Sunday, the best team in the NFL can realistically lose to the worst team in the league. 

Tagliabue created this parity through the salary cap and free agency. Teams from small and large markets compete on a level playing field and its possible for a downtrodden franchise to right the ship in one offseason. This system has produced the best sports league in America -- one that stands head and shoulders above all other leagues in creating and sustaining fan interest throughout the entire year.

While his methods may be different, Dana White is slowly creating an MMA promotion that is starting to resemble the NFL in this key way -- the introduction of parity. This year, we have seen three major upsets in the last three pay-per-view cards with Randy Couture's victory over Tim Sylvia, Matt Serra's upset of Georges St. Pierre, and of course Gabriel Gonzaga's stunning dismantling of Mirko Filipovic Saturday at UFC 70.

We are increasingly hearing the phrase "In any given fight ..." in discussions of UFC matchups. Other than Chuck Liddell's stranglehold on the light heavyweight division, the title holders in all the other weight classes have held the belt for less than a year.  Gone are the days of Rich Franklin's seemingly interminable hold on the middleweight title or Matt Hughes' grip on the welterweight title.

Instead, what we see in the UFC is depth in all the divisions. In fact, the promotion's showcase weight class only a year ago -- the light heavyweight division -- is arguably the weakest division right now. And, nowhere is the depth more noticeable than in the UFC heavyweight division. A year ago, the fate of that division rested squarely on the shoulders of Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, with the future seemingly in the hands of up-and-comer Brandon Vera and a hopefully-rehabbed Frank Mir.

What a difference a year makes. Now, the division title is held by elder statesman Randy Couture and everyone else is jockeying for contention. Filipovic was supposedly the heir apparent to the crown and had he won Saturday, he would have faced Couture for the title. Instead, Filipovic must go to the videotape to figure out how he lost his title shot and how a relative unknown, Gonzaga, thoroughly dominated him on the ground as well as standing up. 

Gonzaga's victory is proof that star power doesn't equate to invincibility -- it is only an indication of what a fighter has done in the past.  But, is there any sport that asks the question "What have you done for me lately?" better than MMA?  Fighters today toil countless hours as professionals to perfect their game. Proper game planning (as Couture showed us) is just as important as physical training because the gap between the top fighters and those below is closing.

A byproduct of this newfound parity is that -- much like the NFL -- the UFC is creating a product that is bigger than any one fighter.  Unlike boxing, which has traditionally relied on one or two superstars to carry the sport until a new star emerges, UFC absorbs the losses to superstars like St. Pierre and Filipovic and simply rolls on to the next event. 

And in the process, UFC fighters have also dispelled the myth that PRIDE fighters are far superior. With Heath Herring's loss to Jake O'Brien earlier in the year and Fabricio Werdum's loss to Andrei Arlovski (along with Filipovic's loss to Gonzaga), UFC's homegrown talent has bested some of PRIDE's most notable performers. 

As UFC 71 looms on the horizon, the main event features Liddell against the only man who has beaten him, unavenged -- Quinton Jackson.  This is a title fight and a classic UFC-PRIDE matchup, to boot.  So, how will the UFC cope if Liddell -- clearly the promotion's most marketable fighter -- loses to Jackson?

In this new era, with UFC positioning itself to be an international sporting force -- not just an American novelty -- I believe the promotion has already proven it will be just fine.

Posted by at 12:18 PM | | Comments (2)
        

April 20, 2007

Judgment Day: UFC 70 collides with Cage Rage 21

UFC returns to the United Kingdom on Saturday for UFC 70. The move overseas highlights the continued growth of the hottest MMA promotion in the world. However, UFC 70 will not go unchallenged as England’s foremost MMA league, Cage Rage Championships, is also holding an event –- Cage Rage 21 –- the same day at nearly the same time.

With both events being held nearly simultaneously, a question for some American fans may be – can I watch both events?  Due to the way both events are being covered here in the States, the answer to that question is fairly simple – yes, you can watch both events.

UFC 70 will be held at the M.E.N. Arena in Manchester, England, and Spike TV will broadcast the event on tape-delay starting at 9 p.m. EST. On the other hand, Cage Rage 21 at Wembley Arena in London will be streamed live on the Internet on ProElite.com starting at 1 p.m. EST.   

UFC 70 features ten fights, six of which are in the light heavyweight or heavyweight divisions. In fact, all five main card fights are in one of the two heavier weight classes, a departure from UFC 69, which tended to favor the three lower weight classes (middleweight, welterweight, and lightweight). 

The main event of UFC 70 is the battle between heavyweights Mirko Filipovic and Gabriel Gonzaga.  Filipovic is making his second appearance in the UFC, coming off a UFC 67 victory over outclassed Eddie Sanchez.  Filipovic is famous for his exploits in PRIDE and K-1, but the Brazilian grappler Gonzaga should not be underestimated. Gonzaga is 7-1 in MMA fights, including 3-0 in the UFC.  The winner of this fight will reportedly face Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title.

Other main card fights include Lyoto Machida against David Heath in a matchup of unbeaten light heavyweight fighters. Machida has beaten B.J. Penn, Rich Franklin, and Stephan Bonnar in non-UFC fights. Heath is 2-0 in the UFC.

Another UFC 70 light heavyweight fight features Englishman and TUF 3 alum Michael Bisping, who faces Elvis Sinosic in front of a home crowd. Bisping is unbeaten in MMA and won his last match at UFC 66 against Eric Schafer by TKO in round one. Sinosic has lost his last five UFC fights and at age 36 one wonders why the UFC keeps bringing him back. If Bisping can entertain the British fans with a dazzling win over Sinosic, we may have our answer.

Another intriguing UFC 70 heavyweight matchup pits Andrei Arlovski against Fabricio Werdum. Arlovski is the former UFC heavyweight champ and continues on the comeback trail with this fight against Werdum, who is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and an accomplished ground fighter. This is Werdum’s first UFC match but he has had plenty of experience fighting in PRIDE. He also has wins over Aleksander Emelianenko, brother of the world’s number one heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko, and Gonzaga.  Werdum serves as Filipovic’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach as well.

While UFC 70 will literally showcase some of the circuit's top heavyweights, Cage Rage 21 features an eclectic card full of names familiar to MMA fans. The main event fight features a heavyweight fight between Gary Turner and David “Tank” Abbott. Abbott is a last-minute replacement for Bob Sapp who withdrew from the event due to personal reasons.

Another well-known MMA fighter featured in Cage Rage 21 is Vitor Belfort, who faces Ivan Serati.  Belfort has faced some of the best fighters in both UFC and PRIDE fights, with wins over Wanderlei Silva and Randy Couture.

Murilo Rua -- older brother of top PRIDE light heavyweight Mauricio Rua -- squares off in a middleweight fight against Alex Reid in Cage Rage 21. The elder Rua has had an extensive career in PRIDE with high-profile losses to the likes of Quinton Jackson, Ricardo Arona, and Kevin Randleman. 

There are also two title matches in Cage Rage 21. The “World” light heavyweight title fight pits Evangelista Santos against James Zikic while the “British” welterweight title fight features Paul Jenkins versus Paul Daley. 

And, not to be outdone Cage Rage 21 also has a TUF 3 alum on its card -- albeit not a very good one -- in Englishman Ross Pointon. The 4-8 Pointon faces Abdul Mohammed in a welterweight fight.

For more information on UFC 70, visit http://70.ufc.com/ and for more information on Cage Rage 21, visit http://www.cagerage.tv/nextevents.htm.

Posted by at 11:39 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 18, 2007

As Tito Ortiz's world turns

I'm a little late with this, but on Monday I received a press release from the press office of Tito Ortiz (yes, he has a press office) and I wanted to share it with you.  First, let me set it up a bit.  As I mentioned last week, Spike TV aired a show last Thursday -- Bad Blood: Dana White vs. Tito Ortiz --chronicling the events leading up to a supposed March 24 boxing match between White and Ortiz.  The match never took place because Ortiz, who had asked for the fight as part of his contract to return to the UFC, backed away in the final days.

Well, Spike TV aired the show anyway, despite the fact that no boxing match took place.  Ortiz must have been watching because, according to the press release, he wasn't amused by how he was portrayed on the show.

Here is the press release in its entirety:

Dana White has once again taken the low road and decided to try to damage my reputation and credibility in a public forum.  During an appearance on Spike TV on April 12th White accused me of failure to show up for a fight we had originally scheduled for March 24th.  He did so at the end of the program and gave me no opportunity to respond or tell the real story, which is simply this: White was fully informed well in advance of March 24 th that I would not fight without a contract, which White refused to sign.

Fighting is my livelihood and jeopardizing my body without a full understanding of conditions, doesn’t make any sense. No professional fighter will go into a risky match without a contract.

I’ve struggled to get respect and dignity for my profession and I do it in the way I lead my life as a fighter and as a human being.  Dana’s attitude not only disrespects me, but all fighters. I am taking this stand just not for this one incident, but for all future champions.

I want to reiterate:  I am ready to settle my differences with Dana White in any fighting forum we can agree on, but only if there is a signed contract that stipulates where the money is going, whether it is to charity or to the fighters doesn’t matter as much as having a definitive agreement.

Until Dana White is ready to fight me on a professional basis, I strongly urge him to keep his mouth shut.

So, there you have it.  Much like Ortiz-Shamrock, this "feud" may drag on beyond its natural lifespan.  Let's hope not.  As I said last week, this boxing match was never a good idea to begin with.  It was a lose-lose proposition for everyone involved. 

I will also say, however, that by not showing up for an event that he himself proposed, Ortiz has done damage to his reputation.  He had plenty of time to make sure the arrangements for the fight met his standards, but instead he waited until just before the scheduled date to air his grievances.

I've surfed some of the forums online (titoortiz.com, mmaweekly.com, sherdog.com) since this press release came out.  Ortiz has always been a lightning rod in the world of MMA -- fans either love him or hate him.  These events haven't changed that.  However, it appears that fans have generally not approved of the way Ortiz has handled this whole bizarre episode. 

Personally, I think UFC should try to put all this very far behind it and move on.  The Nevada State Athletic Commission has already strongly suggested they won't sanction this sort of circus-like event ever again.  And they shouldn't. 

So, let's get back to some good old-fashioned MMA, shall we?  Ortiz is rumored to be set to fight in UFC 73 against rising star Rashad Evans, with a possible light heavyweight title shot on the line.  Given how the last year or so of fighting went for Ortiz -- a controversial decision win over Forrest Griffin, two wins over outclassed rival Ken Shamrock, and a convincing loss to Chuck Liddell -- I hope the former UFC light heavyweight champ goes back to basics and concentrates on winning MMA matches.

Ortiz is undoubtedly charismatic and has shown that he can make money with his personality.  He is also thoughtful and personable, as he proved in our one-on-one interview last December.  But, I believe he is now in a position where he sorely needs a victory in the Octagon over a reputable fighter like Evans to maintain his credibility.  If Ortiz is worried about getting paid, winning in the Octagon will solve all his problems.  A loss at UFC 73, on the other hand, may ensure that the next time he suggests a gimmick like this boxing match, no one will be paying attention.

Posted by at 9:30 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 17, 2007

Richard Steele and others join the MMA fray

UFC and PRIDE are unquestionably the two biggest promotions in the world of MMA.  However, that hasn't stopped other promotions from trying to claim their own piece of an ever-growing pie.  Boxing promoter Gary Shaw stepped into MMA with his league, EliteXC, and entrepreneur Calvin Ayre has launched BodogFight -- both promotions launched in the last year and both have already featured some decent cards.  In addition, there are other MMA leagues such as K-1 Hero's in Japan, Cage Rage in England, and IFL (the only MMA team league).

While most MMA fans are familiar with the leagues mentioned above, these fans are also being presented with other options.  As an example, I received a press release today stating that well-known boxing referee Richard Steele has formed his own promotion -- Steele Cage Promotions.  According to the press release, the promotion's first event -- "Fireworks in the Cage" -- is a 10-fight card that will be held July 7 at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.  The card will feature former UFC fighters Marvin Eastman and David Loiseau.  Eastman is no longer in his prime and Loiseau is on a bit of a losing streak but it's still not a bad card for a brand-new promotion. 

An MMA event of potential interest for fans near Atlantic City is Cage Fury Fighting Championships (CFFC) 5, which takes place June 23 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.  The reason this card caught my eye is that it will feature former Olympic boxing gold medalist and former WBO heavyweight champion Ray Mercer in a fight against online bareknuckle brawling legend Kimbo Slice.  If you aren't familiar with Slice, check him out on Google or YouTube.  He has essentially made his name fighting guys in streetfights and destroying all except for one of them.  It's unclear to me whether either Mercer or Slice has any MMA training but the fight will be conducted using MMA rules in a cage.  While the fight is more gimmick than anything else, I am familiar with Slice's online fights and I have to say I am a bit intrigued to see how he fares against someone like Mercer, who has had formal training in boxing at least.

Closer to home, I mentioned in a previous post that MMA is now sanctioned in Washington, D.C.  Well, the first-ever professional MMA event is being held in our nation's capital on May 12 at the DC Armory.  The event, dubbed "The Revolution", is being promoted by Mixed Martial Arts Championship and features lesser-known fighters.  This is a card I will be very interested in for a number of reasons.  If the attendance is solid and the event is run well, it would be very interesting to see if we see any movement on MMA sanctioning in Maryland.

While these cards aren't UFC or PRIDE caliber, they still offer MMA fans opportunities to see some decent professional mixed martial arts action without having to pay top dollar.  And who knows, you may see the next big MMA superstar get his start in one of these lower-profile leagues.

Posted by at 7:51 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 13, 2007

TUF 5 episode two recap and more

TUF 5 episode two continued where episode one left off.  Team Penn fighter Matt Wiman may have said it best when he said it was a sad day for humans.

Indeed it was.  But, it was also a happy day for viewers of the show.

A new wrinkle in the show was the fact that episode one loser Allan Berube decided not to leave the house after losing his fight, bucking tradition.  It will be interesting to see how Berube impacts the show, given that he is currently out of the running.  I think keeping fight losers is a brilliant move because of the additional drama that may be introduced to the show.

BJ Penn continued to play mind games with Jens Pulver, hoping for a more favorable second fight matchup.  Unfortunately for Penn, the games didn't work this time.  In addition, Penn's team chemistry appeared to be unraveling a bit when two of his fighters -- the omnipresent troublemaker Gabe Ruediger and the aforementioned Wiman -- continued to snip at each other.  This dysfunction was nipped in the bud -- for now -- with a team meeting.

In addition, the lonely fighters had a funny episode with two passing women and their horses.  One of the horses had trouble with traction on the TUF house's slick driveway and required that the fighters bring out rugs so that the horse could regain its footing.

The testosterone level shot up when one of Team Penn's fighters wrote a disparaging comment about Team Pulver on one of the house walls (apparently, these guys have a little too much free time.)  When Team Pulver returned to the house, Nate Diaz made a not-so-surprising debut on the show by taking his shirt off and elevating the tension in the house.  Diaz's Team Pulver teammate Manny Gamburyan then absolutely flew off the handle and even threatened to leave the house over what initially seemed to be a rather innocuous dig at his team.

And oh, there was also an elimination fight in episode two.  This one featured Team Penn's Noah Thomas against Team Pulver's Gamburyan.  Thomas' confidence in himself came from his experience, having fought over 40 fights in the previous 2+ years.  On the other hand, Gamburyan -- Karo Parisyan's cousin -- had spent the last couple of years recovering from a shoulder injury and hadn't fought during that time.  In the end, it didn't matter.  The stocky Gamburyan caught Thomas with a punch early and dominated Thomas on the ground, ending the fight with a first round submission due to Kimura.  The victory was an impressive one for the Armenian.

The first two episodes of TUF have been entertaining and have featured two lopsided fights.  Team Pulver is sitting pretty right now, up 2-0.  As good as the talent displayed in the Octagon has been, the drama in the TUF house has been even better.  I can't wait for the TUF 5 hot tub scene (there will be a hot tube scene, right?)...

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I stayed up late to watch Bad Blood: Dana White vs. Tito Ortiz on Spike TV right after TUF 5 episode two.  The one-and-a-half hour show -- detailing the history between the two men, how the boxing match came about, and White's preparation for the match -- was a bit anti-climactic given that it had been reported in the MMA online media that Ortiz failed to show up for the weigh-in a couple of weeks ago.  Still, I watched and was interested to learn a little more about Dana White behind the scenes. 

I was impressed by White's candor about his age and his physical shape and by his drive to train for this fight even as he continued in his role as UFC President.  It becomes clear over the course of the show how White has made UFC such a successful promotion -- he displays a lot of the same traits in his preparation for the bout.

In the end, I think the bout not taking place may have been the best thing for UFC and all involved.  The idea was a lose-lose for all parties involved.  The sole exception to this may have been White, who would have gained a little on a personal level from winning the bout.  But, something tells me White is more interested in keeping MMA and UFC credible and Ortiz losing to his 37-year-old boss may have hurt the credibility of the sport.

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Spike TV has begun showing promos for their tape-delayed telecast of UFC 70 from Manchester, England on April 21.  What struck me is that the promos advertise the program as being on free TV.  I think I understand the spirit of the claim, but it's not technically true.  While Spike TV is not pay-per-view and it's not a premium cable channel, it is a basic cable channel.  And, last time I checked, basic cable still costs money.  Regardless, UFC 70 is a very nice card and televising it on Spike TV is huge for MMA fans.

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Fox Sports Net will be televising tonight's IFL Uncasville match between the New York Pitbulls and Portland Wolfpack at 11 pm EST in a two-hour tape-delayed telecast.  All five fights in this match will be shown on the program, hopefully in their entirety.

Posted by at 11:49 AM | | Comments (0)
        

April 10, 2007

Who will be TUF 5's Sanjaya Malakar?

Reality TV is definitely not beneath me. Just ask my wife. I love MTV's The Hills and My Super Sweet 16, and Fox's American Idol to name a few.

Of course, I love MMA as well. So, that's why I am happy to say that after watching The Ultimate Fighter season 5 premiere episode Thursday on Spike TV, I am very excited about the new season. It looks like TUF 5 will give me the best of both worlds -- reality TV drama and MMA action.

I will be the first to admit that I didn't really watch TUF season 4 last summer, and based on the ratings many MMA fans could say the same. After a fantastic TUF 3 featuring rival coaches Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz and some good talent, I was burnt out on TUF. And TUF 4 didn't really interest me -- the premise or the coaches.

But, TUF 5 is a whole different story. Based on the first episode and their interview with Joe Rogan at UFC Fight Night 9 Thursday, the two coaches -- BJ Penn and Jens Pulver -- despise each other. Penn and Pulver already have history coming into this show -- Pulver defeated Penn in UFC 35 to win the UFC lightweight title -- and they will be fighting again at the end of the season at The Ultimate Fighter Finale. Both snipped at each other in episode one, doing as much as they could to disrespect the other.

As for the fighters, all sixteen fight in the lightweight division. Based on episode one there will be no shortage of drama for these guys, who will be shacked up in the same house for six weeks with no outside contact. The very tall Corey Hill (Team Pulver) stands out as someone to follow and has already made a name for himself with his trash-talking. Gabe Ruediger (Team Penn) struggled to cut weight in episode one -- he needed to cut 20 pounds to fight at 155 pounds -- and was fortunate to not have to fight in the first elimination match. Other fighters on the show include two belonging to familiar MMA families -- Nate Diaz and Joe Lauzon.

As for the episode one elimination match, the fight was between Cole Miller (Team Pulver) and Allen Berube (Team Penn). I'm not sure how the inexperienced Berube made the show (could he be TUF 5's Sanjaya Malakar?) but he was easily disposed of by the brash and talented Miller via triangle choke in the first round.

With all this action in episode one, I'll be back for episode two this Thursday at 10 p.m. on Spike TV.  I have a very good feeling about this season.

Posted by at 12:04 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 9, 2007

UFC 69 adds intrigue to welterweight, middleweight divisions

UFC 69 saw the end of the brief reign of Georges St. Pierre as the UFC welterweight champion.  St. Pierre was stunned by challenger Matt Serra and dropped convincingly in the first round of their title fight.  With Serra's victory, there are a number of new questions we can now ask about the welterweight division.  1) Who will Serra fight in his first title defense? 2) Who will St. Pierre fight in his next fight? and 3) Where does Matt Hughes stand in all of this?

Josh Koscheck's victory over previously undefeated Diego Sanchez may not have been pretty but it was convincing.  It was clear from the outset that Koscheck controlled the fight and was dictating the pace of the action.  Koscheck punched when he wanted to and took Sanchez down when he wanted to.  Sanchez appeared to not have any real gameplan to beat Koscheck.  With this victory, it would appear that Koscheck is one step closer to challenging the three top fighters in the division -- Serra, St. Pierre, and Hughes.

In the middleweight division, Yushin Okami staked a claim to being one of the top fighters in the division with his fourth straight UFC victory -- this one over Mike Swick in UFC 69.  Okami dominated Swick for most of the match and appeared to be the bigger, stronger fighter.  Along with titleholder Anderson Silva, former champion Rich Franklin, and Nate Marquardt (widely reported to be the next challenger for the middleweight crown), I think fans have to look at Okami as being right up there with this group.  TUF 3 alum Kendall Grove also moved up in the middleweight rankings with his submission victory over Alan Belcher.

In the lightweight division, Roger Huerta's fight against Leonard Garcia was one of the most exciting fights I have ever seen in UFC.  This fight was non-stop back and forth action with both fighters leaving everything they had out there in the Octagon.  The mutual respect the two combatants showed each other at the end of the fight was well-deserved.  This bout only added to what is shaping up to be one of the very strongest divisions in the UFC.

The UFC heavyweight division looks quite strong all of a sudden.  With the announced signing of Antonio Nogueira -- former PRIDE heavyweight champion -- last night in addition to previous signings and the return of Randy Couture to the division, there is plenty of top-notch depth.  In addition, with Brandon Vera reportedly signing an extension with the UFC, there is good up-and-coming talent in the division to complement the cadre of proven fighters such as Nogueira, Couture, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski, and Mirko Filipovic.  Heath Herring's victory in UFC 69 also keeps him in the picture as a solid contender in the division. 

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For those of you keeping score, my nickname picks for UFC 69 went 3-6 for the night.  In other words, maybe some of these fighters should be working harder in the gym and spending less time coming up with clever nicknames.

Posted by at 7:25 AM | | Comments (0)
        

April 8, 2007

UFC 69 welterweight title match: Georges St. Pierre (169.5) vs. Matt Serra (169.5)

Serra is the challenger for the title by virtue of winning TUF season 4.  This match was scheduled for earlier in the year but had to be postponed because the titleholder, St. Pierre, was injured in training.

The referee is Big John McCarthy.

In the first round, the two spend the first few minutes standing and measuring each other.  Serra lands more blows during this feeling out process.  However, in the middle part of the round Serra stuns St. Pierre with a blow to the head that rocks St. Pierre.  Serra continues to apply pressure, hitting St. Pierre with more solid punches as St. Pierre stumbles around the Octagon.  Serra gets St. Pierre to the ground and lands blow after blow to St. Pierre's head before McCarthy ends the fight.

What an upset!  We have a new UFC welterweight champion!

Result: Matt Serra wins by TKO at 3:25 of the first round.  Matt Serra is the new UFC welterweight champion.

Posted by at 12:38 AM | | Comments (1)
        

UFC 69 welterweight bout: Diego Sanchez (168.5) vs. Josh Koscheck (170.5)

This is a true grudge match.  Deigo Sanchez has already beaten Josh Koscheck in their previous fight in TUF.  There is quite a bit of bad blood between the two and they've been talking a lot of trash through the press over the last couple of weeks.  At the UFC 69 weigh-in, Sanchez shoved Koscheck on the stage.  This should be a very tough fight between two bitter rivals.

Sanchez comes out with a live Mariachi band -- a very unique touch.  He is unbeaten in MMA action coming into this fight.  The referee is Big John McCarthy.

In the first round, the two start out measuring each other on their feet. Koscheck lands a couple of nice punches during the round but for the most part not much happens.  Koscheck scores a big takedown as the round ends and Sanchez is able to reverse.  I give the round to Koscheck.

In the second round, the two again don't do too much.  Koscheck lands a big punch towards the middle of the round.   Koscheck lands another big punch towards the end of this round and continues to get a big punch in here and there.  Koscheck does more than Sanchez so I give Koscheck round two as well.

In the third round, I believe Sanchez needs to finish the fight in order to stay unbeaten.  However, the two don't do too much in the first three minutes.   Sanchez needs to push the issue but doesn't and the crowd boos the inactivity as the fight approaches the end.  I give Koscheck the final round.   

For all the hype, this was a very boring fight between two fighters who looked extremely tentative and unwilling to make a commitment.  They did more before the fight than they did in the Octagon. 

I give Koscheck the win 30-27.

Result: Josh Koscheck wins by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).  Sanchez is no longer unbeaten.

   

Posted by at 12:13 AM | | Comments (3)
        

April 7, 2007

UFC 69 lightweight bout: Leonard Garcia (154.5) vs. Roger Huerta (155)

The referee for this bout is Mario Yamasaki.

In the first round, the two are very active from the start, punching and kicking wildly.  Huerta ends up on top of Garcia on the ground near the cage.  The two end up on their feet and Garcia brings Huerta to the mat with a Guillotine attempt.  The action is fast and furious.  Huerta is on top and punching but Garcia takes Huerta to the ground.  The two stand up again and punch before Huerta takes Garcia to the ground again. Huerta grounds and pounds before Garcia reverses position.  What a round.  Non-stop back-and-forth action.  I give the round to Huerta, who appeared to be more in control.

In the second round, Huerta scores another takedown and grounds and pounds from half-guard.  As they get back up to their feet, Garcia gets Huerta with a knee.  The two are punching wildly on their feet with Huerta connecting more often than Garcia.  Huerta takes Garcia to the ground.  Garcia looks very tired.  The two are back on their feet and are punching wildly again.  Huerta scores another takedown and controls on the ground.  I give the second round to Huerta as well.

In the third round, more wild punching by both but Heurta scores with a couple of punches and ends up with another takedown.  Huerta controls on the ground from half-guard.  Garcia works and ends up on Huerta's back but Huerta ends up back on top and grounds and pounds furiously.  Huerta connects with a couple of punches from top position on the ground.  I give the round to Huerta.

What a scrappy fight by the two.  Very entertaining -- non-stop action. 

I score the fight a win for Huerta 30-27.

Result: Roger Huerta wins by Unanimous Decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

Posted by at 11:37 PM | | Comments (0)
        

UFC President makes an announcement

UFC President Dana White announces that UFC has signed former PRIDE heavyweight champion Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira to the promotion, further shoring up what used to be a weak division.

Posted by at 11:10 PM | | Comments (0)
        

UFC 69 middleweight bout: Mike Swick (184) vs. Yushin Okami (184)

This should be a very good fight.  Swick is originally from Houston and gets a nice cheer from the crowd.  The referee is Mario Yamasaki.

In the first round, the two fighters feel each other out for the first couple of minutes, striking from a distance.  Okami finally scores a takedown near the fence and tries to ground and pound from half-guard.  Okami attempts a Kimura before the end of the round, but Swick escapes.  I give the first round to Okami.

In the second round, the two fighters again maintain a distance on their feet.  Okami takes Swick down about halfway through the round.  Okami again attempts to ground and pound, this time from full-guard.  The ref stands the two up after inactivity.  On their feet, Swick forces the issue with some punches.  But, Okami scores another takedown before the ref stands the two up.  Swick finishes the round with a flurry of punches that appear to rock Okami.  This end to the round makes it a very close round.  I give the round to Swick for the flurry at the end.

In the third round, the two fighters are more active on their feet.  However, Okami takes Swick down and has him in full-mount.   Okami is dominating from this position for a couple of minutes with punches and choke attempts.  However, Swick reverses position and is on top, but he can't do anything from this position as the round ends.  I give Okami the third round.

I score this fight a win for Okami 29-28.

Result: Yushin Okami wins the fight by Unanimous Decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27).   

Posted by at 11:02 PM | | Comments (0)
        

UFC 69 middleweight bout: Kendall Grove (185.5 lbs) vs. Alan Belcher (184)

Kendall Grove -- a Team Punishment fighter -- walks to the Octagon wearing a mask over his mouth and nose.  He also appears to have some new ink on his body.  Big John McCarthy is the referee.

In the first round, Belcher scores the first takedown and gains side control.  But Grove gets the fight back standing.  Grove scores two straight kicks to Belcher's body and then scores a knee to his body.  The action slows down a bit towards the end of the round.  It's a close round.  I give it to Grove for impressive activity over the last few minutes.

In the second round, Belcher attempts unsuccessfully to take Grove down and Grove ends up on top of Belcher with side control.  Belcher is bleeding badly from his head.  Back standing, Grove hurts Belcher with a kick and batters Belcher against the fence with knees and punches.  Grove then body slams Belcher to the mat.  On the mat, Grove gains side control and puts on a finishing choke to end the fight in the second round.

Belcher is asleep when the ref ends the fight.

Result: Kendall Grove wins by submission due to a D'Arce choke at 4:42 of the 2nd round.

Posted by at 10:29 PM | | Comments (1)
        

UFC 69 main card

Hello everyone.  I'm here in front of my TV with the UFC 69 promos about to end and the pay-per-view telecast about to begin.  This Houston card is a good one.  I'll be particularly interested in the Sanchez-Koscheck fight, the Swick-Okami fight, and the welterweight title fight between champion Georges St. Pierre and challenger Matt Serra.  I'll also be interested in watching TUF alum Kendall Grove in his fight against Alan Belcher.

Posted by at 10:00 PM | | Comments (0)
        

Live-blogging the UFC 69 main card fights

Folks,

As you may remember, I was Octagonside for UFC 68 in Columbus, Ohio and I live-blogged directly from that event.  While I am not Octagonside for UFC 69 tonight, I will be watching on TV and live-blogging the main card fights from the comfort of my home. 

Therefore, if you don't have the opportunity to attend the event in Houston and you can't watch it on TV, come back here at about 10 pm EST for my live updates of all the main card fights.

For those of you who didn't have a chance to read my UFC 69 preview, click here to do so.

See you back here at 10 pm!

Posted by at 6:12 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 6, 2007

UFC 69 preview

Check out my preview of UFC 69 here.  I'm fairly certain it's unlike any other UFC 69 preview you will read this weekend.

Posted by at 8:09 AM | | Comments (0)
        

April 5, 2007

Full slate of weekend MMA action starts Thursday night

The UFC leads the parade of MMA action this weekend with two events Thursday night as well as UFC 69 Saturday night.  Thursday night, UFC brings MMA fans UFC Fight Night 9 from The Pearl in Las Vegas.  The card, which will air on Spike TV from 8-10 pm EST, is a good card featuring two interesting lightweight bouts -- Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Stevenson and Kenny Florian vs. Dokonjonosuke Mishima.  Following UFC Fight Night 9 at 10 pm EST, Spike TV will air the premiere episode of The Ultimate Fighter season 5.  This season's TUF cast will consist of 16 lightweight fighters as well as coaches BJ Penn and Jens Pulver. 

Saturday night, UFC presents UFC 69 from Houston, Texas.  UFC 69 features the welterweight title fight between titleholder Georges St. Pierre and challenger Matt Serra (by virtue of winning his division in TUF 4).  Another highly-anticipated bout features fierce welterweight rivals Diego Sanchez and Josh Koscheck.  Look for my UFC 69 preview article Friday on Baltimoresun.com.  In addition, I will be live-blogging the UFC 69 main card Saturday night on Baltimoresun.com starting at 10 pm EST.

Also on Saturday, IFL makes a stop in Moline, Illinois.  The fight card features Lions vs. Silverbacks and Red Bears vs. Tigersharks.  There are a number of good fighters on this card including heavyweight Ben Rothwell, who is unbeaten in the IFL.

And on Sunday, PRIDE holds its final event -- PRIDE 34 -- under it's current ownership, Dream Stage Entertainment.  This event is being held in Japan but can still be seen live on pay-per-view at 3 AM EST Monday morning.  The card features fighters such as Jeff Monson in a heavyweight duel against Kazuyuki Fujita (billed as a UFC-PRIDE matchup).  Other fighters include heavyweight Eric "Butterbean" Esch and possibly former PRIDE middlweight champ Wanderlei Silva (if he is medically cleared to fight.)  After this event, the Fertitta Brothers (owners of UFC) will be taking over ownership of PRIDE.

Posted by at 1:23 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 3, 2007

MMA Primer: How to read a MMA betting line

With the sport of mixed martial arts growing as it is and five professional MMA events in the 5 days starting April 4, MMA betting lines will soon become a regular part of sports vernacular.  But these lines don't look quite like betting lines for other sports.  So, how does a bettor read a MMA betting line?

In MMA betting, the bettor will see one of two types of numbers associated with a given fighter -- a positive number or a negative number.  A fighter assigned a negative number is the favorite in the fight while a fighter assigned a positive number is the underdog. For the favorite, the negative number represents how much money a bettor needs to bet on this fighter in order to earn $100.  For the underdog, the positive number represents how much money a bettor will win if the bettor bets $100 on that fighter.  The larger the negative number for a fighter, the more of a favorite he is.  The larger the positive number for a fighter, the more of an underdog he is.

For example, in Chuck Liddell's August 2006 UFC fight against Renato Sobral, Liddell was the favorite at -330 while Sobral was the underdog at +270.  These numbers suggest that Liddell was a clear favorite (though not overwhelmingly so.)  In this case, a bettor putting $330 on Liddell netted $100 for his win.  On the other hand, if a bettor had placed $100 on Sobral and Sobral had won, that bettor would have netted $270.

As with bettings odds in all sports, an MMA betting line can tell you who the public generally favors in a particular contest.

Posted by at 6:15 PM | | Comments (0)
        

April 2, 2007

Why isn't MMA sanctioned in Maryland?

"Why isn't MMA sanctioned in Maryland?"  My good friend Colin (himself an avid MMA fan) posed me this question the other day and the question inspired not only this blog entry but what will be increased coverage of this issue on my part in future articles. 

Let's take a look at the facts. MMA is sanctioned in over half the states in the country; DC is about to hold its first event May 12; and Pennsylvania is apparently on its way to holding sanctioned MMA events as well. In the next seven days alone, there are at least five top-level professional MMA events taking place throughout the world, including three in this country. So, why hasn't the Maryland State Athletic Commission already taken the necessary steps to make Baltimore and the rest of Maryland a player in this growing sport?

The city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland were slow in enacting the ban on smoking in bars, clubs, and restaurants. Now, it appears the city and state will be even further behind the curve on the issue of sanctioning mixed martial arts. I'm not sure why this is, but I can tell you why MMA should be sanctioned in Maryland and why a city like Baltimore is already equipped to handle MMA events:   

1) Baltimore is the ideal east coast location to hold huge MMA events like UFC. It is situated conveniently along I-95 and is about halfway between Florida and Maine. 
2) Baltimore already has the infrastructure to handle such events. The city is host to the Ravens and the Orioles and is a popular destination for a number of conventions throughout the year. With the construction of the new Hilton hotel next to Camden Yards as well as other hotels, accommodating 20,000 MMA fans for a weekend should not be a problem at all. The First Mariner Arena would be a very suitable location for such events. The Arena is already home to a number of touring concerts, the WWE, and other sporting events.
3) Bringing MMA to Baltimore will be a financial boon to the city because of all the money spent by visitors to the city and the jobs created for the events.
4) Baltimore is in the midst of its own renaissance and can use events such as UFC to showcase what is quickly becoming a thriving metropolis that is attracting new residents and new businesses on a regular basis.
5) Baltimore and the surrounding Maryland counties are home to a number of highly-regarded MMA Academies such as Ground Control (home of John Rallo and Binky Jones) in the city, Maguilla Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Combat Club in Silver Spring, and Lloyd Irvin's Martial Arts Academy in Camp Springs. The sport is also televised at a number of bars in and around Baltimore. The fan base exists to make sanctioning of the sport a financially worthwhile endeavor.
6) For those worried about the violence and brutality of the sport, one of the main purposes of sanctioning is to assure the health and safety of the fighters. 

In some of my future articles, I will attempt to shine some light on the effort that is currently in place to achieve MMA sanctioning in Maryland. I will also try to find out why it's taking so long for the movement to gain traction in this state.

Posted by at 7:54 PM | | Comments (0)
        

One-on-one with UFC heavyweight Heath Herring

I interviewed UFC heavyweight Heath Herring last week by phone. The former PRIDE and K-1 fighter is returning to his home state of Texas this weekend (April 7) to fight Brad Imes at UFC 69 in Houston.  Click here to check out the interview with "The Texas Crazy Horse."

Posted by at 11:02 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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