baltimoresun.com

« October 2007 | Main | December 2007 »

November 29, 2007

TUF 6 Episode 11 recap: The "Upper Decker"

I fancy myself as someone with a pretty good sense of humor. In fact, I find having one is a good way to cope with big and little stressors that life throws your way.

But, I have to say, I didn't find anything funny about last night's episode of TUF, in which a couple of Team Serra's fools hit the Team Hughes toilet with an "Upper Decker," which is described here. Watching the episode, I was very disappointed that this is how UFC and its fighters are being portrayed to mainstream audiences, just as the TUF fights themselves should be getting better.

Let's be honest about something. TUF is now only partially a proving grounds for up-and-coming MMA fighters trying to make it into the promotion. Based on the need to attract audiences -- and I don't know if this is being driven by UFC or Spike TV -- there are essentially two classes of fighters on TUF nowadays.

One class of cast members -- best represented this season by Mac Danzig and George Sotiropoulos -- actually has a legit chance of making a career in the UFC. The other class -- represented best by Richie Hightower and others -- is really on the show for entertainment purposes.

Many have noticed how inexperienced this season's overall cast is. I'll go one step farther and ask, "Are these really the top 16 welterweight prospects that UFC could find?"

I don't think so. 

And, so we have the "Upper Decker." At a critical time for the sport and for the UFC, mainstream audiences see jokers and clowns -- with no real shot at making it -- acting in stereotypical ways, in ways that skeptical audiences may believe all MMA fighters act.  Encouraging this behavior, focusing on it, or bringing in fighters who have nothing else to offer only damages the sport.

I'm not a fan of the direction that TUF is headed. I want good fighters and good fights. If there are natural story lines that come out of living in the house for six weeks, so be it. But, what we have now is an attempt at entertainment that quite frankly falls short. As Danzig said, the behavior exhibited in last night's episode was juvenile.

And, by the way, if you weren't repulsed by the antics early in the episode and kept watching, you caught a pretty good quarterfinal fight. Tommy Speer impressed me by surviving two tight submission attempts early in the first round -- an armbar and then a triangle choke -- before using his strength and wrestling advantage to decision Ben Saunders. Saunders was apparently ill going into the fight and put up a noble effort, trying to stay active on the ground from bottom position.

Next week's last episode features Danzig against Matt Arroyo and Sotiropoulos against Speer in the two semifinal matches. Based on the previews of that episode, I'm guessing Speer won't be able to continue because of the cuts on his face.

The great thing about having two fights on one episode is that we probably won't be tortured by the inane activity that expensive market research apparently says we crave ...

Posted by at 8:13 AM | | Comments (8)
        

November 27, 2007

Sean Taylor's death transcends football

It's been difficult to focus on MMA today. When I woke up this morning, I was greeted by a text message from a good friend that simply read "Holy ****, he died." Unfortunately, I immediately knew who "he" was.

Like me, countless others found out throughout the day that the "he" who had died overnight was Sean Taylor, the Redskins' young and talented safety. And, like most of those mourning his death, I didn't know Taylor personally. In fact, I don't cover football and I haven't been a Redskins fan for years.

But, Taylor's death goes far beyond being a 'Skins fan or even caring about football. Surfing over to CNN.com throughout the day illustrates that the news of his death is bigger even than the world of sports. There is something about mortality striking the seemingly immortal that moves us.

Many of you have undoubtedly read other columnists throughout the day, who have posited their own thoughts on Taylor's death. They've probably said it better and with more expertise than I can here, but I've been so moved by the events of the past 36 hours I had to weigh in as well.

The details of Taylor's death are still sketchy. As of now, motive is unknown. Did Taylor's past catch up to him or was this a random act of violence? Was it a burglary, a robbery, or a "hit"?

Ultimately, we may find out the answer to all these questions. But, those answers won't help comfort his family or his fans or those of us who are numbed with sadness at the loss of such a gifted young man. A young man who apparently made his fair share of mistakes early in life, but had also apparently turned the corner in the last couple of years. Taylor, by all accounts, was now a proud father and had also become a locker room leader at the tender age of 24.

I'm older than Taylor. Not old enough to be wise, but old enough to know that at 24, his best years were still ahead of him. His best years as a football player. And his best years as a man.

I'm old enough to know that we all make mistakes. Hopefully we learn from them and even if we do, we still keep making them. Whether or not a past mistake led to Taylor's death doesn't make his passing any more explicable or any easier to understand.

I'm also old enough to remember the day, more than twenty years ago, when the Washington area heard similarly horrible news about a similarly gifted athlete who had also met a far too premature death. As a young Terps fan, Len Bias was a god to me -- he leaped over defenders with grace and power, potentially only matched by the ACC's premiere living legend, Michael Jordan. Bias had been drafted by the Celtics only days earlier -- and hoped to continue Boston's championship legacy alongside Larry Bird -- when he died of a cocaine overdose.

Though the circumstances of Taylor's death don't appear to be the same as those surrounding Bias', the similarities are enough to bring back some of the same feelings, even if two decades later. 

Here were two young athletes, seemingly at the top of their games, who had still hardly scratched the surface of their potential. And, when they died they only left us with more questions than answers.

Would Bias have been a better pro than even Jordan?

Would Taylor redefine the position like Ronnie Lott had before him? Would he spend the next decade going toe-to-toe with the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polumalu for the title of best safety of his generation?

We'll never know the answer to those and so many other questions.

We may never even find out if the alleged robbers got what they came for when they launched their ill-fated plan. But,  we do already know that they took something from us all that we can never take back -- the wonder of a young man about to realize his full potential as a human being.

That loss is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the last two days.

Posted by at 5:56 PM | | Comments (8)
        

November 26, 2007

TUF 7 Update: Baltimore's T. Dixon in the running

Last week, I reported that Baltimore BJJ instructor Lee Synkowski had successfully made it through the first day (three rounds) of TUF 7 tryouts. I'm happy to report that another Baltimore middleweight, Ground Control's Tenyeh Dixon, also earned a spot last Monday in the final 32.

With two candidates now waiting to find out whether they will be invited to Las Vegas for the next round of tryouts, Baltimore's chances for representation on the next season of the show look quite good. The show has a cast of 16 so probability dictates that "The City That Reads" will have at least one participant on the show.

I will keep you posted as I receive more information on both Synkowski and Dixon's TUF 7 quests.

Posted by at 7:21 PM | | Comments (0)
        

November 25, 2007

Serra out, St. Pierre in for UFC 79

Who says news slows down during the holidays?

It certainly hasn't this Thanksgiving weekend for UFC. The promotion informed fans on UFC.com on Friday that Matt Serra had injured his back last week and would not be able to defend his welterweight title against Matt Hughes at UFC 79.

Just when I thought the mega-card had taken a mega-hit, UFC announced yesterday on its Web site that Georges St. Pierre will step in to fight Hughes for the interim title at UFC 79. The winner of that fight faces Serra sometime next year for the undisputed title.

While I'm not sure exactly what the interim title truly signifies, I do know that this will be a great fight. I was looking forward to Serra-Hughes, but St. Pierre-Hughes is pretty special, too. The fight pits the two previous champs in the weight class and represents the rubber match in their trilogy. With five weeks still remaining before the bout, the main question is: Will this be enough time for St. Pierre to train and get ready for the fight?

At the very least St. Pierre has the benefit of having fought Hughes twice before and Hughes himself will also have to rethink his game plan, since St. Pierre is a very different fighter from Serra.

If St. Pierre wins -- which sets up St. Pierre-Serra II -- I hope Serra and Hughes get an opportunity to fight each other sometime in 2008. The animosity that has been building up between the two deserves a decisive resolution inside the Octagon.

Along with the announced dream match between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva as well as the introduction of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou to UFC fans (in a bout against Lyoto Machida), the St. Pierre-Hughes match maintains the mega-status of the card. After a couple of harrowing days, fans can exhale, knowing the integrity of this card has not been affected by the recent developments.

Posted by at 10:54 AM | | Comments (7)
        

November 22, 2007

Happy Holidays -- from Tito Ortiz...

Folks, Happy Thanksgiving!

And, who better to wish you season's greetings than Tito Ortiz and Punishment Athletics (PA)?

I've been meaning to put this entry up for a few days, but last week Ortiz's Press Office sent out an email detailing PA's offerings for the holiday season, geared towards "fans of Tito or fashionistas." Advertised items include hats such as the "Halo Flat Bill", beanies, and shirts such as the "Heritage", which is printed in both English and Spanish.

Ortiz, more than most other fighters, has truly embraced the corporate side of MMA's recent mainstream success. While others, such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, have benefited as well, Ortiz may be the most proactive of the lot. Every decision he makes is a business decision and I see nothing wrong with his attempts to cash in.

For years, MMA fighters have toiled in relative obscurity and for relatively little pay. Those such as Ortiz who helped bring the sport to America are in the ironic position of not being able to fully enjoy the windfall as their careers wind down.

So, while Ortiz may never be a champion again in the Octagon, it appears he is geared up for his next fight in a new arena -- your wallet.

Posted by at 9:28 AM | | Comments (0)
        

November 20, 2007

Lee Synkowski -- Baltimore's next MMA star?

Over the last year I've chronicled the rise of Baltimore's lightweight MMA star Binky Jones here at Baltimoresun.com. Well, after the The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 7 tryouts held in New Jersey on Monday, it now appears that Charm City is close to having a second MMA star.

Lee Synkowski, the instructor at Baltimore BJJ in Parkville, attended the tryouts yesterday (geared toward the middleweight division) and has informed me that he made it all the way through the interview round, which is the third round of the process. (As a matter of full disclosure, I took a few BJJ classes with Synkowski in the summer of 2006 before I began writing for the Sun.)

I asked Synkowski some questions about his trip and what it was like trying out for TUF 7. Here are highlights from that e-mail conversation:

What were the tryouts like?

149 people showed up.  They broke us into groups of 50, and we went into a room with Dana White and the show's producers seated at a large table like American Idol.  From there, they called us up in pairs and had us grapple from the knees, looking for submission or position.  I had the fastest submissions in our group, so I think I stood out there.

How did you find out you made it to the interview round?
 
The interview round was the third round, and occurred after the second round, which was striking mitts, again in front of Dana and the producers.  About 60 made it to the striking round and 32 made it to the interview round.

When will you finally know if you've made the show?

Well, they said they would call us if we did, I think by December.  After that you go to Vegas for some other tests and they make the final cut.

When does the show start filming?

I have heard it starts in January, although I don't know for sure

What would making TUF 7 mean for you and your MMA career?

It would be excellent exposure for myself and my school.  It would be a chance to train with world class coaches and learn more than I've ever learned.  It would get my MMA career rolling, because I have been mainly focused on grappling and jiu-jitsu as of late.

---

I confirmed with Spike TV that there are no other tryouts being held for TUF 7 so Synkowski is indeed one of the last men standing. In early December, according to Spike TV, the next cut will be made and those fighters that move on will be brought out to Vegas for the next round of interviews. And, in mid-December, the final 16-member cast will be chosen for the show after background checks and physicals.

Posted by at 7:31 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Q&As
        

November 19, 2007

UFC 78 Recap

My expectations for UFC 78 were realistic -- I simply didn't think this card was PPV-caliber. So, while the rest of the mainstream media slammed the card after the fact because they were disappointed with it, I was armed with the proper perspective and actually came away thinking the card turned out ok.

My complete recap of UFC 78 is up at SI.com. But, I'll give you a teaser here.

For one thing, I found the dark card fights to be more entertaining as a whole than the main card fights. The action was more spirited and the conclusions more decisive.

The main event fight between Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping changed nothing in the light heavyweight title picture and may have given us yet another scoring controversy. Karo Parisyan missed out on a big opportunity to shine. And Houston Alexander's meteoric rise was grounded by Thiago Silva.

For my detailed thoughts on the event, head over to SI.com.

Posted by at 5:58 PM | | Comments (0)
        

November 17, 2007

UFC 78 Preview: Am I being too tough on this card?

First of all, I've gotten some questions about where my UFC 78 preview is. From now on, look for my UFC previews and recaps over at SportsIllustrated.com. Click here for my UFC 78 preview. In the future, if you click on the SportsIllustrated.com link under my blog picture, you will be taken right to my SI archive, where you will find all my articles, including my most recent ones.

Anyway, to answer the question I pose in the title of this entry, after two days of reading your comments (both in agreement and disagreement with my preview), I don't think I am being too tough on this card. Here's why.

UFC is the number one promotion in the world. It is the standard bearer for the sport. Hardcore fans already know this. UFC 78 is easily the best card in MMA in the last month. But, guess what? I expect more from the promotion. I'm already a fan and have been for years. I'm going to watch tonight's event as I watch every event. UFC doesn't have to convince me of the quality of its product.

But, I think UFC can do better. With essentially all the top talent in the world locked up, UFC should be looking to give fans top-notch cards every month. The promotion has one moment a month to shine for mainstream audiences. Most months, it does. This month, however, especially for an event held right outside New York City (the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.), this card falls short.

We can talk about Tito Ortiz backing out of the main event fight or Matt Hamill being injured, but either way the UFC has enough depth to not suffer a card like this even when one or two fighters can't fight.

In my estimation, there are no fighters on this card who are in the top three of their weight class. The fight that has the most significant ramifications is Karo Parisyan vs. Ryo Chonan in the welterweight division. The winner of this fight should fight Jon Fitch and the winner of that bout should get a title shot.

There are no other fights that rise to this level on the card. With the signing of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou this week by UFC (a tremendous development), the light heavyweight division is so stacked at the top that neither Michael Bisping vs. Rashad Evans nor Houston Alexander vs. Thiago Silva changes much in the division's title picture.

What we have with UFC 78 is a good card. For an Ultimate Fight Night card on Spike TV, this would be fantastic. If UFC had a deal with HBO or another premium cable outlet, this would be a decent card for that venue. But, it simply does not rise to pay-per-view caliber.

If you want a pay-per-view card, look at UFC 79. That's the real deal. Dana White has recently admitted that UFC is going through "growing pains." It has been a tough few weeks for White with the Randy Couture issue and the confusion involving Sean Sherk's steroid hearings. I consider UFC 78 the last part of that slump.

The signing of Sokoudjou and UFC 79 are the beginning of what looks like a much better period for the promotion. For those of you who have read my blog over the past year, you know I call it down the middle. If UFC or any promotion does something well, I credit them. But, when they stumble I note that as well. For the sport to continue to grow, we all need to be honest about its successes and failures.

Here and at SI.com, rest assured that I will continue to keep it real. And, please let's continue the intelligent discourse.

Posted by at 11:56 AM | | Comments (0)
        

November 14, 2007

TUF 6 Episode 9: Random thoughts

- If I was Matt Serra, I would have pitted Mac Danzig against Tommy Speer in the first round simply to assure one eliminated Matt Hughes fighter. But, that's just me. In the end, I respect Serra's decision to let the fighters make the call.

- Serra's passion continues to make me a fan. His reaction to having to give up two of his fighters for the quarterfinals says it all about why his fighters fought so well for him. In contrast, Hughes' reaction to Richie Hightower's "let's eliminate the awkwardness" moment was telling as well. The best leaders combine skill with communication with ability to relate to their charges. Serra joins Jen Pulver and Tito Ortiz as TUF coaches who in my book exemplify these qualities in recent seasons of TUF.

- After six seasons of the show, quite frankly the drama in the house is getting played out. I pretty much tune out now during those sequences, especially because every fighter has already had a fight and we've already met them all. There really aren't too many more ways to say "these fighters get bored in the house."

And, from the editing of this past show, I think the folks over at Spike TV agree with me. I thought the way they edited Danzig's scene outside by the pool sitting and watching the bird feeder was hilarious. And the camera following the tossed coin in the training facility was great as well. Both rank right up there with Dana White's slow-motion expressions during the BJ Penn-Jens Pulver ping-pong match last season.

- I would love for Spike TV to put a laugh track behind TUF. There are moments when I just catch myself laughing and I don't know if it's because there's something funny going on or the editing or what. Something needs to happen though to spice the show up. If I'm getting bored, I can't imagine how the casual fan feels.

- Danzig is a beast. No doubt about it. He handled John Kolosci to easily advance to the semis. By the same token, the overall quality of the fighters appears to be down this season -- there's a lot of inexperience in the house. Still, I'm looking forward to an Ultimate Finale fight between Danzig and George Sotiropoulos. Let's just hope it happens...

Posted by at 11:08 PM | | Comments (2)
        

November 12, 2007

TUF 7 casting call information

From a Spike TV press release:

WHAT: Casting Call for Season 7 of Spike TV’s hit series, “The Ultimate Fighter”

WHEN: Monday, November 19 at 8:00am

WHERE: Newark Airport Hilton Hotel 1170 Spring St, Elizabeth, NJ 07201 WHO: Mixed Martial Arts Fighters in the 185 lb weight class (middleweights)

WHY: Spike TV and the UFC® are looking for aspiring mixed martial arts fighters who think they have what it takes to compete in the world’s preeminent MMA organization.

HOW: Interested applicants are encouraged to sign up in advance at www.ufc.com or www.spiketv.com

Overseeing the tryouts will be:

Dana White – UFC President and host, “The Ultimate Fighter”

Craig Piligian -- Executive Producer, “The Ultimate Fighter”

Brian Diamond -- Senior Vice President, Sports & Specials, Spike TV

Posted by at 6:13 PM | | Comments (0)
        

November 11, 2007

EliteXC: Renegade Recap

On a night when EliteXC's main card held a lot of promise with a number of intriguing matchups, only one out of the five main-card fights went beyond the first round. Two fights ended by doctor stoppage. The lone title fight left fans with an empty feeling inside. And we still don't know anything more about Kimbo Slice's MMA skills.

Kimbo fights a can

Look at the first three letters of Bo Cantrell's last name and you have the entire story for his fight against Slice. The fight ended after 19 seconds as Cantrell tapped out in anticipation of the onslaught he was about to receive after Slice caught him with a punch and an elbow to the face that floored him. One thing I've noticed in Slice's training video is that he really does work on his elbows and tonight he used his lone elbow standing up fairly effectively.

Apparently, Cantrell was affected by Slice's reputation as well as possibly his own reputation coming into the fight (his loss to Slice marked his fifth straight first round loss in a row). Said Cantrell: "I am not sure what happened but just before the fight -- I started feeling weird. I just wasn’t myself in there. I felt a shell of myself."

Undoubtedly, Slice needs tougher opponents. As Slice trainer Bas Rutten said after the fight, "I am happy for Kimbo, but he needs an opponent that is going to push him a little. I think he can handle it, but I want to see how he does when he has to face some adversity and go a full round or two."

From a marketing standpoint, fans at the arena gave Slice by far the largest ovation of any fighter on the card, so he at least appears to be paying dividends on that end.

Noons gashes Diaz for 160-lb. title

EliteXC kept calling this fight a lightweight title fight, but 155 lbs. is universally acknowledged as the upper limit of the lightweight division (we can get into how I feel about Gary Shaw's inclusion of all these new weight classes on another occasion -- right now, I'm just not a huge fan because this reminds me of the confusion seen in boxing.)

Regardless, I've been impressed with Noons in his last two fights. He is a very strong striker and clearly tagged Diaz a number of times standing up. Noons has also shown good sprawl and the ability to escape on the ground in his last couple of fights. I thought Diaz would be able to control the fight on the ground, but Noons simply would not let him.

As a fight fan, I was sad to see the doctor stop the fight after the first round because Diaz was clearly game for at least another round. His tantrum afterwards was understandable. As a responsible citizen, however, I understand the stoppage. Diaz's face was brutalized by Noons in the first round. He had a cut on his left eyelid, one on his nose, and possibly one near his right eye. I just prefer to err a little more on the side of letting two guys duke it out when a title is on the line, especially if both are able and willing.

To a certain degree, this result may have been a karmic correction for Diaz's decision victory over Mike Aina in his last fight -- a fight in which Aina also scored significantly with punches.

Silva a new force in the heavyweight landscape?

Antonio Silva dropped down to 265 lbs. for his fight last night and he looked impressive. He showed nice strikes standing up and worked the ground game to record his first victory by submission (rear-naked choke). Silva is fast becoming one of my favorite heavyweights in a division that needs more marketable talent. Along with Slice, EliteXC has a nice one-two punch that doesn't approach the depth of UFC's heavyweight division, but isn't bad as far as putting fans in the seat.

Now, EliteXC needs to work on attracting some of the top non-UFC heavyweights out there like Ben Rothwell and Josh Barnett and also hope for a co-promotion with M-1 to put Fedor in the mix. If all that happens, that's a strong heavyweight lineup for a promotion that seemingly had no heavyweight division just a month ago.

Kyle Noke, welcome to America, mate

Australian middleweight Noke made his American MMA debut in fine fashion, winning due to doctor's stoppage after opening up a large gash on Seth Kleinbeck's head. This was definitely a good stoppage and resulted from a vicious elbow strike by Noke.

Noke looks to have a fine all-around MMA game, which he put on display against Kleinbeck. Along with EliteXC's lightweight division, I also like the promotion's middleweight division. We've seen Frank Shamrock, Murilo Rua, and champ Robbie Lawler on their cards. Noke is a nice addition and makes EliteXC's middleweight division deeper and more intriguing than UFC's (even if it isn't as top-heavy).

Shields continues to run through the welterweight division

Jake Shields has to be one of the top welterweights in the world, especially on the ground. Last night, against a disgruntled Mike Pyle, Shields did what he has shown he can do -- he dominated the fight by using the cage effectively and mounting his opponent with ease. Shields ended the fight with a deep rear-naked choke. Who else can EliteXC bring in to challenge Shields? I would love to see him fight UFC's top welterweights, but Shields re-signed with the promotion (according to a press release) so we may have to wait on those matchups.

The streak continues

After last night's predictions, my picks record is now up to 9-2 over the last month. Captain America, here I come.

Posted by at 12:24 PM | | Comments (1)
        

November 10, 2007

EliteXC: Renegade Quick Picks

Between my Baltimoresun.com and SI.com picks over the last few weeks, I'm now 6-1 since I've started keeping track of my picks (which I will be doing henceforth). Still, please don't use them when you visit your bookie. They are for recreational purposes only.

Nick Diaz vs. KJ Noons (EliteXC lightweight title fight)

Diaz is the bigger fighter and has more all-around skills. Diaz can hang with Noons standing up and will school him on the ground.

Prediction: Diaz

Jake Shields vs. Mike Pyle (Welterweight)

This is an intriguing matchup. Both fighters are submission experts trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Pyle struggled in the IFL but seems to have found a home in EliteXC. Shields has been very impressive in his last two fights. Both train with top-notch camps -- Shields with Cesar Gracie (along with Diaz) and Pyle with Xtreme Couture. But, someone's got to win and Shields has won his last four fights by stoppage.

Prediction: Shields

Kimbo Slice vs. Bo Cantrell (Heavyweight)

Slice is an Internet street-fighting legend. He's new to MMA but he has been training for about two years. He's now teamed up with Bas Rutten and Shawn Tompkins. He won his debut -- an exhibition match against Ray Mercer -- by bull-rushing Mercer, using Muay Thai knees, mounting him, and finally winning by guillotine choke. Cantrell has lost his last four fights by stoppage in the first round. Will the cobwebs be cleared for this fight or will he be sliced?

Prediction: Slice

Antonio Silva vs. Jonathan Wiezorek (Super heavyweight)

This is another tough call. Silva looked impressive against "Cabbage" Correira in his EliteXC debut. He has quick feet and impressive skills for someone of his size. Wiezorek's notable win came against Dan Severn in 2001. His only loss came against Ben Rothwell in 2004. Silva likes to strike and Wiezorek favors the ground game and most his wins have come by submission. In the end, Silva will be too big for Wiezorek.

Prediction: Silva

Posted by at 11:31 AM | | Comments (0)
        

November 9, 2007

Binky Jones reportedly joins IFL for 2008

I'm very late with this, but according to the Ground Control Web site, Baltimore lightweight Binky Jones will be competing in the International Fight League (IFL) for the 2008 season:

"On October 21st, Binky Jones headed up to Manhattan to tryout for the 2008 IFL (International Fight League) roster. Unlike the Ultimate Fighter evaluation process, the IFL put the 200+ professional fighters through live grappling and MMA sparring. Binky stepped up to the competition by subbmitting two opponents and winning a decision in the finals. At the end of the day, Binky was selected to fight for the IFL in the 2008 season."

Before then, Jones will complete his two-fight contract with BodogFight by facing Vladamir Zenin in Moscow, Russia on November 30.

This is yet another big step for Jones, who has had a breakthrough year in 2007. First, he won the Ring of Combat lightweight tournament title, then he signed with BodogFight, and now he has earned the right to compete in the IFL.

I don't know the details of Jones' contract with the IFL or which camp (formerly team) he will be competing for (though given that Ground Control is a Renzo Gracie academy, it would make sense that he fights for Renzo Gracie's camp.) I hope to get in touch with Jones in the near future about his IFL plans and I'll pass on the 411 as soon as I have it.

Posted by at 5:25 PM | | Comments (0)
        

November 8, 2007

Thoughts on TUF 6 -- Episode 8

Here are some of my thoughts on last night's episode:

- Matt Serra is quickly growing to be one of my favorite MMA fighters -- the kind of guy whose personality outside the Octagon makes you root for him inside the Octagon. I interviewed him when he was down at Ground Control here in Baltimore, and he was friendly and warm and bubbly in an infectious way. What I like about him from the show is his matter-of-factness -- he's not afraid to tell you the way it is, but he does so in a way that's not threatening.

On last night's episode, Serra clowned opposing TUF 6 coach Matt Hughes as well as his own fighter, "War Machine" Jon Koppenhaver. Serra clearly dislikes Hughes, but I find his rants about Hughes clever and amusing. In the same way, Serra quickly dissected Koppenhaver's mental game as a weakness, but also gave Koppenhaver the opportunity to earn his trust through proper training.

I thought Serra handled Koppenhaver very well both before and after his loss. Serra is the kind of coach -- much like Tito Ortiz in season 3 -- that I would love to learn from.

- Wow, that Koppenhaver is quite a character. His story about losing his father as an adolescent was truly heart-wrenching and it appears that he hasn't fully dealt with that loss. It really was sad to hear him say that he has nobody in this world (save a couple of friends.) Admittedly, it was enough for me to pull for him in the fight against Hughes farmboy Tommy Speer.

And, it looked like the underdog Koppenhaver might actually get the job done, especially with his early punch that sliced open the bridge of Speer's nose and his numerous rear naked choke attempts. Speer, however, took control midway through the first round and used his size and wrestling ability to control the remainder of the match to earn the decision victory.

- Next week the quarterfinal matches begin. According to the understood rules, Serra chooses all the matchups because he won the preliminary round 6-2. I hope Spike TV and Dana White don't go and muck this up, as it looks like they might from the preview of next week's episode. If Serra wants both Hughes fighters to meet up in the first round in order to eliminate one of them, that's his prerogative. I don't think White or Hughes should have any say in it.

I'm already worked up about it. I guess we'll have to see what happens next week...

Posted by at 6:27 PM | | Comments (2)
        

November 6, 2007

My thoughts on Kimbo Slice

Kimbo Slice, as many of you know, is a YouTube streetfighting legend who has made the switch to MMA. This Saturday, he debuts with EliteXC in a fight against Bo Cantrell. Cantrell enters this fight having lost four straight in the first round.

In my latest article at SI.com, I give my thoughts on whether Slice has what it takes to make it as a MMA fighter. I break down his potential based on 1) skill and 2) marketability. Both are essential for success in the fight game.

Click here for the article.

Note that EliteXC's event is Saturday at 10 PM ET on Showtime.

Posted by at 9:57 PM | | Comments (2)
        

November 3, 2007

IFL World Grand Prix Semis Recap: IFL crowns light heavyweight champ

On the first live network telecast of MMA ever in this country, viewers who tuned in were rewarded with two complete fights -- both ending in decisions -- and highlights from a third fight. Here's a recap of the two IFL Grand Prix fights that were shown as well as my thoughts on the telecast itself.

Vladimir Matyushenko wins IFL light heavyweight belt

In a weight class that was depleted by injuries, Matyushenko went undefeated for the year and won Saturday night by sticking to his game plan. He continuously shot Alex Schoenauer's legs, took Schoenauer down at will (especially in the first two rounds), and dominated on the ground with ground-and-pound. Schoenauer mounted little in the way of offense and was neutralized on his feet. If anything, Matyushenko landed a couple of strong punches early in the first round standing up.

Matyushenko officially won by unanimous decision. I had the score 30-27 for Matyushenko but none of the ringside judges saw it quite that decisively. It was an interestingly refereed fight because it seemed to me that the ref was conscious of the fact that the fight was live on TV and thus appeared a little quick in making the fighters stand up. In fact, in the first round he had the stand up for no apparent reason. It didn't matter though, because Matyushenko rarely had trouble taking the fight to the ground.

Horodecki wins rematch

Chris Horodecki won his semifinal match in the lightweight tournament by split decision over Bart Palaszewski in a fight that really could have gone either way. The judges' scores were all 29-28, which I think was a fair assessment. The fight came down to how an observer scored the final round and it was definitely a close round to call.

Horodecki won the first round by being very active and very accurate with his combinations and his leg kicks. Palaszewski won the second round with some very strong punches that had Horodecki staggered. Palaszewski at point in the second round had Horodecki in a standing guillotine and pounded him with a couple of knees to the head. It was a tremendous effort on Horodecki's part to survive that second round onslaught which represented the best chance either fighter had to stop the fight.

The third round was close. I think Horodecki was rewarded for being more active in that round and I can't argue with the final decision. Horodecki moves on to the finals of the lightweight tournament which will be held Dec. 29.

This makes two fights this year in which Palaszewski has come close to finishing Horodecki only to lose by split decision. The difference between the two fighters is very small and this will be a very nice rivalry for a long time.

TV Production

I thought the production for this show was good. There was nothing about it that blew me away but I do credit IFL for trying to educate the viewers and for the disclaimer they make in the middle of the telecast about the danger of trying MMA in an unsupervised setting.

We got plenty of Bas Rutten during the telecast, which is a good thing and we got to hear from coaches during the fights, which is also nice. And, there was always a ticker at the top of the screen to keep track of round, time, and the fighters involved.

The telecast made allusions to the IFL's team concept (which will be changing slightly in 2008) but did so in an understated way which was appropriate for the event since it was an individual tournament.

The one thing I do wish is that the fighters would come out to their own music. And, I found the sound effects in the arena rather annoying. In addition, at one point during the telecast the audio was off track from the video.

The camera angles during the fight were good, though.

Overall, I think it was a good start for IFL and for MMA on live network television and I give the telecast a B.

Posted by at 10:23 PM | | Comments (2)
        

IFL World Grand Prix hits live network TV tonight

IFL's World Grand Prix hits live network TV tonight at 9 p.m. EST on MyNetworkTV. The one hour of coverage represents the first time in the history of this country that MMA will be covered live on network television (don't forget that IFL has had a weekly show called IFL Battleground on MyNetworkTV for the past 9 months or so, but that show is pre-packaged.)

The question, is IFL ready for its live TV debut?

For one thing, the Grand Prix has been reduced in importance because of dropouts due to injury and contract issues. Two fighters who qualified for the event -- Antonio McKee and Mike Whitehead -- have left the company since the end of the team regular season. Another, and arguably IFL's most well-known fighter, heavyweight Ben Rothwell is in a contract dispute with IFL and is not signed for 2008, making him ineligible for the event. IFL doesn't want an individual champ to then leave the company with the belt.

Injuries have also decimated the field, hitting the light heavyweight division the hardest and reducing it from the standard four-man field to the current two-man field.

By my estimate, the event has lost 30% of its top fighters, slightly diminishing the significance of the belts.

However, there are still a couple of intriguing story lines for the event. And, I think the institution of the individual Grand Prix and individual champions is a nice innovation for the team-based league.

Another question is, without the familiar faces of Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, will a mainstream audience be interested enough to watch IFL's show tonight? And will the effects of missing some of its top talent hurt the event?

I spoke with IFL Commissioner Kurt Otto earlier this week and he said, "As a fight organization, if you are relying on one guy then you’re in big trouble. You have to have width and depth in talent in order to truly succeed."

But, missing your best fighter in Ben Rothwell hurts, right? Not so, according to Otto. His reply: "Ben Rothwell is not the answer to the IFL’s success."

That may be true, but Rothwell's stock has risen for a reason and it remains to be seen whether any of the fighters on tonight's telecast can deliver the goods the way he has in the past.

On a positive note for IFL, the fighters seem to understand the gravity of the moment. Bart Palaszewski -- who fights Chris Horodecki tonight in a rematch of a fight he lost controversially earlier this year -- told me by phone this week that, "Hopefully I’m a good [representative] for the sport -- that’s what I’m striving for. I’m not trying to be just another thug fighting. I want to represent MMA to its fullest. It’s a great sport and everybody thinks it’s almost like a dog fight. [I want to] try to stay classy out there and put on a good show for the crowd."

That attitude will certainly benefit IFL as it tries to bring MMA to the mainstream market. However, even Palaszewski's inclusion in the Grand Prix is controversial because technically Shad Lierley beat him out for the last spot in the lightweight tournament.

Another factor that could help IFL is the hiring of former Showtime boxing exec Jay Larkin as COO and President of the promotion. Larkin will be supervising production of tonight's event from Cardiff, Wales where he will be live to supervise what he says will be his final boxing production.

Larkin's experience doing boxing telecasts for 22 years for Showtime should benefit IFL's presentation of tonight's telecast and ones to come.

Here are a couple of other reasons I believe IFL's live show could attract new fans to its organization as well as to MMA:

1) The prohibition of elbows to the head and face means less blood, which reduces the perceived goriness of the sport.

2) IFL fights take place in a ring, which is familiar to most people and doesn't connote the same level of barbarism as does a cage.

And, finally it seems like Corporate America may be finding MMA more palatable. Larkin reported in a conference call earlier this week that "MyNetworkTV has sold out the commercial inventory for the first time for a MMA show." If executives are spending money on ads they must believe the audience approves of the product and will watch the program.

So there are a lot of positives coming into this event. I think the televised fights will be good ones. But, I also do think IFL will take a hit for not having its absolute top talent in the ring and quite frankly UFC would have made a much bigger impact because of the much broader appeal of its brand and talent.

Still, it's a big night for MMA and IFL has a good concept that will only get better with time (especially with the announcement this week of a change in its city team concept to more of a camp concept). And, it will be nice for the average viewer to see that there's a lot more talent out there than just the fighters who fight in UFC.

Posted by at 2:21 PM | | Comments (0)
        
Keep reading
Recent entries
Archives
Categories
About the blogger
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.

-- ADVERTISEMENT --

Poll
Sign up for FREE local sports alerts
Get free Sun alerts sent to your mobile phone.*
Get free Baltimore Sun mobile alerts
Sign up for local sports text alerts

Returning user? Update preferences.
Sign up for more Sun text alerts
*Standard message and data rates apply. Click here for Frequently Asked Questions.
Categories
Blog updates
Recent updates to baltimoresun.com sports blogs  Subscribe to this feed
Stay connected