29 March 2007

The Rise of Nemo
or: Why I Like My Chemical Romance

That's right, I like My Chemical Romance. I am not a teenager, though I sometimes like to pretend I am. I was going to say I don't like emo, but I do; here's why. See, 'emo' is an abbreviation of a term that was itself an abbreviation: 'emo-core'. It was short for 'emotional hardcore' ('hardcore' being the musical movement from about 1980 onwards that took the punk rock template and filled it even more generously with angst, as opposed to anything more 'gutter' that you were considering). I never really understood this term, as I thought all hardcore was supposed to be emotional. That's why it was hardcore, for Rollins's sake.

Anyway, the term was taken to refer to hardcore that had more of a sensitive side (an oxymoron?): first Rites Of Spring/Fugazi (arguably), and then more prominently the next gen of Quicksand/Sense Field/Far/Farside/everyone on Jade Tree etc.

What is funny is that, while 'emo' as an entity not only still exists, but is performing commercially way beyond what we might have thought it could a decade ago, it's not really emo at all.

Don't get me wrong; I am not a nostalgia fetishist who decries any change as wrong. Quite the opposite: The Bronx are as punk rock as NOFX are as punk rock as The Ramones. But there is something very integral to neo-emo (or, as I like to call it, 'nemo') that is just plain at odds with the emo of the past.

Older emo was, ironically, more stoical; more blue-collar. The players were often short-haired, unglamorous men who were just a tad more sensitive than, say, Agnostic Front. Of course, the scene is now about how glossy and glammy a band can be, while performing as earnestly as possible. Modern emo, with the emotional content ramped up to melodramatic, actually epic, levels is more reminiscent of eighties Hollywood rock (often pejoratively referred to as 'hair metal'. But that is a stupid term as most metal bands have hair. Especially in the eighties: don't make me bring out the massive hair pics of Pantera, Slayer or Megadeth). Both nemo and Hollywood rock are maligned, and I would suggest unfairly so.

I will say this about nemo – there is no equivalent of the incredibly brilliant eighties Guns n’ Roses. I suppose this is when I arrive at My Chemical Romance (MCR). It took me a long time to come round to this band, as I had written off mainstream hard rock/metal a long time ago as irrelevant. And let’s face it: most of it was and is. Pantera were the greatest major label metal band of the nineties. Damageplan consisted of Pantera’s guitarist and drummer, and they were woefully mediocre. Before this fact, I would have thought that the Abbott brothers could play anything and have me hurling myself at the walls in excitement.

Anyway, the day came about two years ago when someone on a message board recommended a couple of MCR songs that were not singles. Ever open minded, I looked into this and found ‘I Never Told You What I Do for a Living’. It was brilliant, and anyone into four minute rock songs should hear it. Because of this song, my resistance eroded, and I decided I liked their singles. A fan of the band?

Not quite yet. Late 2006 saw the release of their most recent album, The Black Parade. The first single from that, ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’, was a bit poor, to be honest. As I intimated in my soon-to-be-officially-unveiled Singles Premiership, it started well, ended well and kinda vanished in the middle. The bloke from the Guardian Guide had it pretty bang on when he said the intro made it sound like the greatest song in the world was about to kick in, and it ended up sounding like a McFly b-side. I wouldn’t say exactly that, as the thin guitars and snotty vocal style reminded me more of Avril Lavigne, but either isn’t amazing.

It was almost an epic by numbers: the intro chronicled grand declarations made on deathbeds and ‘seeing marching bands’. It really set the stage for something that sounded truly immense. Instead, we got the aforementioned anodyne pop punk schlock and a bowlful of disappointment. If they wanted to make this movement sound massive and still keep it chart-friendly, they should quite honestly have ripped directly off ‘Long Live the Party’ by Andrew W.K. That song was brilliant; a shining light on an otherwise disappointing record, The Wolf.

Back to ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’: while the majority of the song was an under-blown disappointment, the conclusion raised the quality level to the promise of the introduction. Still very hammy (as it bloody well should be), the closing sequence was an explosion of ramped-up jubilance. It put in my mind images of the youthful dispossessed (the titular ‘black parade’, I assume) all around the world, rising to their feet like myriad excited meerkats in the kind of union that can only be created by MCR. Or Wyld Stallyns, perhaps. It’d be like some glossy live action equivalent of the Thundercats deal where the whole team sees the Eye of Thundera in the sky and rushes into action. Sadly, what little of the promo video I have seen seemed to be nowhere near as cool as my idea.

Thankfully, the next single was ‘Famous Last Words’ and is brilliant. More of what the world was used to from the old album, but well performed and back to the angst that brought them to the dance. That’s written up in the Premiership. New single ‘I Don’t Love You’ is a power ballad of the likes not seen since the heady days of Bon Jovi (with the long hair) and Heart. And, to be quite honest, I am glad. It’s miles preferable to the anodyne cod-cool of Maximo Park, Calvin Harris or Bloc Party.

22 March 2007

The Twang: What's the Deal?

Seriously, I ask all... two of you that read this. That song of theirs isn't bad at all. Not great, but not bad. But why is everybody going so bananas about them?

Some fucking cretin writing in The Guide this week wibbled on about how 'this sounds like it could have been released fifteen years ago because it's already a classic!', but really it sounds like it could have been released fifteen years ago because it's nostalgic indie at its most brazen. The kind of thing particularly cloth-eared football hooligans might like; all echoey guitars and terrace chant choruses. It's like a bad U2 covering The Farm songs.

So I ended up suffering through the Zane Lowe show last evening. Well, I had to listen to something in the bath. And his pants were exploding about them! Granted, every band in the world is something we all need in our lives and the best thing ever according to him, but come on. At least pretend you have standards. No, instead of their single being perfectly listenable cod-indie, it was the song of the year.

The song of the year. Forgetting, for a moment, that we are still in the very first quarter of this year, there have been loads of better singles this early in the annum. Just look at my Singles Premiership for evidence of that. 'Wide Awake' rocks nowhere near as much as 'Saturday Superhouse'. Nowhere. They played a couple of other songs. One sounded like a Midlands The Hold Steady song. Because that's what it was. They are pretty tight musicians though, I'll give them that. And when he's not fellating The Edge, their guitarist is pretty handy.

That's the thing though. I was watching a Bill Bailey video years ago (not of my own doing). For those blissfully unaware of this gimmick comic, he bases jokes around his aptitude at playing musical instruments, like a particularly annoying high school music teacher who's trying to appear 'hip' in front of the kids. And who uses words like 'hip' in the first place. Anyway, he had a joke about how easy it was to write a U2 song. So he played some arpeggios with tons of delay, and everybody laughed. Now, The Twang seem not to have realised this was a comedy routine, and taken it as career guidance. Sad. What's sadder is that it is just about to make them rather wealthy.

Anyway, they are officially the best thing ever (or at least since the Arctic Monkeys), and shame on any of us who does not like them. Such as me. And they really do sound like a set of complete bozos when interviewed. I am loathe to suffer a decade of their drawling inanity, Liam Gallagher style. LOATHE.

Sorry, had to get that off my chest. Mulholland Dr. review on its way.

13 March 2007


OpethGhost Reveries (Roadrunner)

I don’t really know where to start with this album. So perhaps I should start at the beginning, as they say. As you may or may not be aware (or care), I originally formulated the skeleton of my 2005 list in the halcyon days of, well, 2005. There is a message board to which I semi-regularly post, they have end of year festivities, so I usually tend to round my list out to a fifty by listening once or twice to albums in an mp3 format.

This is terrible form, both as an audiophile (well, as far as finances will allow) and a music fan. To be quite honest, I feel that evaluating a work of music solely through mp3 is almost akin to appreciating a Renaissance painting by asking a toddling-age relative to finger paint his impression of Bacchus and Ariadne and judging Titian on that. But sometimes needs must et cetera.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I listened to this album on mp3. Probably. If not, consider the last two paragraphs catharsis. I know that I listened to it once on the Death Deck, and made placement of it on this here list from that, so I am still bad. What is really weird is that I was very impressed with it, but also found no urge to listen to it again. Which is why this instalment of 2005 was so long in coming.

I think one of the reasons why the thought of listening to it was so unappealing was because every one of the songs hereon seemed to be an epic (in reality, ‘only’ half of the songs break ten minutes). I usually tend to like things like that (I mean come on, removing the brief sample-scapes, the average track length on my favourite album ever is ten minutes), but this can sometimes be slightly intimidating when it comes to first getting into the album. The other reason is that I’m not the biggest fan of Euro-metal.

I really like that strain of Gothenburg melodic death metal (i.e. the successor of Liverpool’s Carcass, at least in latter days, and the progenitor of pretty much every major American metal band of today). I also have some fondness for Norwegian black metal (as well as the bizarrely avant-garde bands that sprung from the country: Arcturus, In The Woods et al). I just can’t get into European metally metal (touches of the eighties, hints of goth). Like Moonspell. I never liked them.

Still, this Opeth album was to 2005 what Mastodon’s Blood Mountain was last year, i.e. the straight-up metal album that was supposed to be so good that it transcended our little ghetto and became that album non-metal fans could listen to. I never really understood that notion, as a metal album is a metal album, and you might as well listen to a bunch of the albums, rather than a ‘look at me, I can listen to metal’ coffee table gesture. Anyway, I liked it a lot, thought it had a lot of potential and decided I might as well give it another listen, seeing as it was pretty high on my own list.

One observation I had from that initial listen, possibly tying in with the sense of the epic, was that it seemed to be a European (in metal terms, read: ‘less cool’) take on Tool’s excellent Lateralus (2001). In hindsight, that comparison doesn’t really play out, but opening song ‘Ghost of Perdition’ reminded me of the L.A. quartets ‘The Grudge’ in its length (and resulting level of statement in having such a song open an album), dynamic shifts that are less swings than drops off precipices, and the clarity in production. Still, both are great and powerful songs, so there’s nothing wrong with the similarity.

The only real issue with that opening song is a dislike of the album as a whole: the vocals here are too binary, almost to the extent of sounding like an ill-fitting collaboration. The singing is either cleanly-sung poppy melodies or gruff death metal vocalising. The latter is poor, at best. I have nothing against death metal vocals at all (and I would like to take this opportunity to mention how I loathe that lazy term ‘cookie monster vocals’), in fact I tend to like them.

Slowly We Rot, by Obituary, has excellent DM vocals, as does most early period Morbid Angel. In fact, there is a DM passage on Mr. Bungle’s ‘Merry Go Bye Bye’ that is phenomenal, and by that I mean pretty much the best death metal I have heard. Plus, the vocals from Brutal Truth, Coalesce and Soilent Green were all very DM-influenced. This, though, is weak. There is no sense of brutality to the vocals, none of that real guttural nastiness. It’s clean death metal singing, and that really does not work.

It also sits very at odds with the rest of the sounds on the album, which is overall very melodic. Track two, ‘The Baying of The Hounds’, really evinces this melodic sophistication as it breaks down quite beautifully into a very mellow passage. When the ‘rocking’ returns, it does so while maintaining the beauty; a deluge of shimmering guitar notes, picked as though by angels. This is the Opeth that really justifies the plaudits that have been bestowed. The song ends rather suddenly, but this is otherwise another awesome epic, in both senses of that word.

For every step forward, though, there is an equal and opposite move from the band. There is also a sense of diminishing returns as the album progresses. ‘Beneath The Mire’ is an eight minute song that seems neither here nor there, partly due once more to the irrelevant yin-yang of the singing, and partly due to what emerges as the real sticking point of the album: it’s just too polite.

I mentioned earlier how well-produced this record is, and that is very much the case; the problem is it’s too well-produced, in a way. Maybe that’s why the aggressive vocals sound so neutered, and it is certainly the reason why, even on the complex, dynamic ‘The Grand Conjuration’, the fast and jagged riffing sections fail to energise me. As someone who loves the sound of testosterone (and is completely unapologetic about it; maybe my perspective will change when I hit thirty, and my own levels drop), this kind of flaw is inexcusable.

The album is really summed up by the closing ‘Isolation Years’. A perfectly fine romantic rock song, though very clearly below the kind of thing Peter Steele’s Type O Negative were doing on their Bloody Kisses and October Rust opuses, it definitely benefits from the omission of what seems elsewhere to be an obligation to rock.

With the success of the melodic rock frames, as well as the undeniable superiority of their clean vocals over the ‘gruff’ ones, this seems to be less a classic Opeth album than it is a self portrait of a band at a crossroads. Not knowing which way to turn, they split their forces, resulting in an album that sounds unconvinced in itself. Perhaps it is time to put to rest the ghost of nineties death metal that haunts Europe still. Amorphis seem better at that kind of duality anyway. Ghost Reveries is an album for which sheer sophistication, professional sound and scope of vision end up being its albatross. Opeth are excellent artisans, but what this album really needs is artistry.

09 March 2007

MMA: On Legends

Everybody likes a good legend; one of those near-immortals we can all look up to. Well, apart from those jerks who like banging on about ‘sacred cows’, but those people suck most of the time anyway. Yes, legends. A personal favourite legend is sprinter Michael Johnson. He was knocking about during my athletics-viewing life, and generally mullered all opposition while looking like he wasn’t breaking a sweat; comically straight back and all. He was like something out of the cartoons: he’d steam off like a pneumatic Chuckle Brother, leaving world class runners choking on the hypothetical dust there would be if professional running tracks were dusty.

He is a legend, one of those performers who stand almost larger than life, like Pele, Michael Jordan and Bjorn Borg. A legend is someone who not only excelled in his field, but to whom we tend to feel that extra adoration; they are less mortal men than they are tangible concepts of what the synergy of human body and mind can achieve.

Mixed Martial Arts is a young enough sport that discussion about ‘legends’ seems rather premature. That said, the last three or four years have suggested that a certain crafty veteran deserves no less nomenclature when discussing him. I am obviously referring here to one Randy Couture, an indubitable class act.

Much has been made of his status back in the day as simple placeholder opponent for Chuck Liddell, during the infamous contract negotiations of ‘fighters’ fighter’ Tito Ortiz. How the veteran who allegedly couldn’t cut it against the new breed of massive, skilled heavyweights took to school a man supposed to knock him out on the way to his inevitable title shot. Couture was doubted, and he responded by beating a surprised Liddell on the feet, before supplying massive takedowns and stopping the Mohawked one with ground and pound. When he then dominated Ortiz for twenty-five minutes, his legacy was pretty much sewn up on the spot.

That Couture also happened to be a quality commentator, incredibly well-mannered speaker and all round clean living man about town (there was that period when he only ate green things: spinach, kelp, plastic watering cans…) was a pile of awesome icing on the already excellent fighting cake. If, indeed, cakes could fight. His jaunt as coach on the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) sealed the deal; his ensuing knockout loss to Liddell, while halting any talk of a Couture-Wanderlei Silva super-fight (how times change) did nothing to tarnish his status as beloved elder statesman. If anything, such a display of Octagon mortality endeared him more.

Then, as the unwashed MMA masses like to say, Father Time did a number on ‘The Natural’. He looked slightly laboured in his win over Mike Van Arsdale (but let us never forget the glory of that opening round – such a display of wrestling quality), and another knockout loss to Liddell sent him to retirement.

Or so we thought!

Yes, it turned out that after keeping his hand in competition in a grappling contest against Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza, the lure of the Octagon, and its associated PPV bonuses, were too much for Couture to resist. Rather than make dollars against the Switchyard Sullivans and Boxcar Fritzes of this world, Couture opted to face heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia, a man much bigger and punchier than the Barnetts and Rodriguezes who sent him packing in the first place.

The ostensible absence of logic in such a decision has been covered, at length, everywhere, as has the result (for those in the dark: Couture, by constant humiliation). What heartened me about the result of the UFC 68 main event was the fact that, though we all doubted him, Couture prevailed. While I had some concern about his future health going into this fight, I rationalised his decision with the knowledge that it’s not like he had never been knocked out before. In his career, Couture has been stopped hundreds of times. Thousands.*

No, my entirely selfish concern was about his legacy: it stood to reason that a man twice stopped by a light-heavyweight puncher would get stopped by a puncher a half-foot taller and sixty pounds heavier. Of course, someone like Muhammad Ali is blatantly a legend, in pretty much every sense of the term. Still, we’d all rather he’d not had that last comeback in 1980. UFC 68 seemed to signal the beginning of an unnecessary, potentially toe-curling career postscript.

Imagine my infinite shades of relief then at the victory, and such a dominant, well-planned and well-executed victory at that. Not only was the legacy intact, but we are seemingly at the beginning of a new chapter of fighting fecundity from the man. While Couture seemed to tire by the mid-point of the last fight, he was assertive enough that Sylvia was utterly unable to take advantage of that.

Indeed, mid round belching and wondering aloud which round was next were the greatest of the now ex-champion’s accomplishments on that night. Well, apart from making the crowd hate him even more by mentioning his injury (legitimate though I am sure it is) in the fight’s post-mortem. I have also to admit that, as much esteem as I hold for Sylvia, Couture as champion certainly makes the heavyweight scene that bit fresher.

In the middle distance is a showdown between Couture and Mirko Filipovic, and again the legacy is on the line. Not quite to the same extent, it has to be said, because a loss to ‘Cro Cop’ is a very real and likely proposition for most fighters. However, this is another fight in which Couture can shock the world.** Who knows what the man might achieve against excellent, and reasonably similarly-sized, opponents like Brandon ‘Contract Negotiation Kid 2007’ Vera and Andrei Arlovski. Conversely, how much career redemption a win for Arlovski over ‘The Natural’ would be.

Having signed a two-year, four-fight contract, perhaps this era of Couture will turn out to be a mid-life crisis… for his opponents. But seriously, one thing is for sure: it is great to have our legend back, with all the stress, hopes and fears that accompany such status. These are interesting times indeed in the world of MMA.

* * *

*Not really. It’s a Seinfeld reference.
**I wouldn’t bet on it though.

08 March 2007

SORBO Watch:
‘You get caught lying about cancer, you're gonna get punched’

I realised when writing about the introduction of burly man-thing SORBO to glamorous Newport that his name (and actually the delivery of said name that I recommended) was somewhat reminiscent of alien newscaster from Futurama’s year 3000, Morbo. The coincidence was just that, a coincidence, and not intentional. Still, it makes it funnier in a way. Anyway, I thought it would be best if we kept an eye on SORBO, as he went about his, no doubt shady, business.

In fact, a moment of tension came about after SORBO’s attempts to meet up with his son Ryan got rebuffed in no uncertain terms. Sandy saw SORBO with Kirsten and Julie, who both looked shaken – what could his final gambit be? I figured he was going to rumble about the male prostitution racket Julie had been running. Maybe something worse; he was a career criminal, after all. Instead, his blackmail was of the emotional stripe. Very clever, SORBO.

Of course, the subtitle of this post stems from this: SORBO declared that he was dying of lung cancer. That got him a chance to meet up with Ryan, head over to the Cohen household for dinner, and he acquitted himself well. I have to admit I have been watching SORBO with a vested interest. I’m not sure why, but I have rather a soft spot for the big lummox and, after his lowbrow TV roles, these episodes have been as much a probation for the real life SORBO as it has for the character he has been playing on screen.

While slightly wooden (fortunately the nerves of his character excused some of that awkwardness), SORBO did well for himself. He was likeable, but threatening when the need arose. And arise it did, as ever-resourceful Sandy did his homework on this man, phoning the prison medic and finding out that he was as strong and healthy as a strong, healthy ox that hasn’t smoked a cigarette in its life. When issued the ultimatum that either he would come clean to Ryan – or Sandy would – SORBO entered Hercules mode and went all you don’t wanna be doing this, Cohen. Anyway, posturing, one punch and lotsa heart to heart later, and SORBO drove off on somewhat decent terms with Ryan.

Something tells me, though, that this is not the last we’ll see of him. I bloody hope not, anyway: I’ve started up a damn SORBO Watch now, and I don’t want to have to reduce myself to watching repeats of Hercules: the Legendary Journeys (no offence Bella!).


Anyway, I have a feeling he might stay knocking about Newport as it looks like SORBO and Julie Cooper-Nichol-Cooper are going to hook up. Could we eventually be witnessing another marriage involving the serial bride? Perhaps Julie Cooper-Nichol-Cooper-SORBO, or maybe she’s grown tired of the name changes and will decide to force him into becoming SORBO Cooper. Oh, the intrigue.

Elsewhere, the now engaged Seth and Summer made this old (OK, I’m twenty six. Whatevz) TV viewer proud, as neither of them wanted to get married, but nevertheless did not want to call it off, out for fear of losing face in the relationship. You know, they would stay together and one would always enjoy the upper hand status of knowing their partner lacked the cojones (or, err, ovarios) to go all the way. So they engaged in a massive spite-driven bluff-fest that rivalled peak George Costanza in both its extreme pettiness and the lengths they went to.

For those unfamiliar with the George episode in question, it concerned his life after accidentally buying the toxic envelopes that killed his fiancée, Susan (season nine of Seinfeld, though the passing was the season finale of the seventh). Anyway, he gets embroiled in a set of lies, as is his wont, that includes his ownership of property in plush New York star holiday-fest the Hamptons. Of course he owns no such thing and Elaine, unbeknownst to him, tells Susan’s parents as much.

So, out of spite, they call his bluff and ask to see this place in the Hamptons. Equally out of spite, he agrees to take them. While on the way, he comes out with a few lies that I really loved, most notably the names of his horses: Snoopy and Prickly Pete. Quite why someone would call a horse Prickly Pete is beyond me, but that’s exactly what makes my ribs hurtle into my lungs with that most agonising of laughter. As one would expect, George ends up hiking through the surrounding Long Island beachland* before he eventually confesses, with great shame (less because he lied than because he was so out-bluffed), that ‘There's no house! It's a lie! There's no solarium. There's no Prickly Pete. There's no other solarium’.

Back to the topic at hand: I loved the escalation that occurred in the game of nuptial chicken between Seth and Summer. Both well aware that the other did not want marriage (the original idea was predicated on a pregnancy scare), neither wants to step down, and they both keep bringing in new stipulations. Seth wants Summer to convert to Judaism. Summer wants Seth to look after their ‘child’, the pet rabbit Pancakes. Eventually they decide to elope to Las Vegas there and then, and it is after being on the road for a few hours that Seth eventually caves. In fact, the mood of the whole episode, SORBO madness included, can pretty much be summed up with the following George quotation:

‘Speak now, or we are headed to the Hamptons. It's a two-hour drive. Once you get in that car, we are going all the way... to the Hamptons. All right, you wanna get nuts? Come on. LET’S GET NUTS!’

*Apparently. My New York geographical knowledge is spotty at best. And by ‘spotty’, I mean ‘non-existent’.

02 March 2007

The Blurst of Times

A familiar subject for this post. After my preview and instinctual
thoughts on Pride 33, here is the finished article I have penned for the Total MMA newsletter. These thoughts are hopefully a tad more organised than the previous ones, and I have even made a pretty picture for this one! Anyway.

* * *

As far as slow deaths of empires go, this stage of Pride’s was relatively enjoyable. In terms of recent MMA shows, this was one no MMA fan is likely to forget. I realise that, to some extent, the context of the DSE financial mire is impossible to totally ignore. That said, with every man and his three-legged dog postulating and theorising about how much money DSE has, who wants to buy it and whether ‘this! Is the last show!’ every time they put one on, I am personally more than a tad tired of people who do not know pretending they do. Besides, what we do know for sure is what happened at Pride 33, however hard it was to believe at first. So let us just focus out beady little eyes and minds on that then.

Obviously, everybody reading must know the results by now so, as is usually the case with these articles, I won’t bore you with play by play. It’s always more fun to watch anyway. Instead, I will focus more on what the results might mean to the promotion, the particular fighters and, to be quite honest, what they meant to me.

On a card that seemed to have more upsets than anything else, it was with less a sigh of relief than a gale, that I watched the respective returns to winning ways by my two favourite pale fighters: Joachim ‘Hellboy’ Hansen and Sergei Kharitonov. Then again, on this night defined by underdogs, their wins were not quick demolitions.

Hansen had it pretty easy against Jason Ireland, who never gave up despite being totally outgunned. Well, that’s a bit of a lie: the scream he unleashed when Hansen cranked on his arm midway through the third round could be construed as giving up. Anyway, he put up a hell of a fight against an elite international lightweight, and surviving into the third round is something to applaud. Here’s hoping Pride holds onto him because he would make a fine addition to this summer’s lightweight tournament (if they’re still around – oo-er).

For his part, Hansen was the consummate demolition machine we al know he can be. His Thai boxing was impressive, as he used the clinch not just to hurl those devastating knees into Ireland’s face, but also to throw his prey to the ground. And when on the canvas, Hansen impressed still further. Obviously fired up by his recent quick submission loss to Shinya Aoki, though respectable on the ground for a while (his defence against Uno was vastly more impressive than when he tapped to ‘Shaolin’ Ribeiro – but Ribeiro is a complete beast at the weight), he was all over Ireland. It seemed as though his winning arm bar was a message sent to all his rivals, accompanied as it was by his insistence that the referee check for the submission.

Less one sided was Kharitonov’s much-needed victory. His run of unfortunate results against Aleks Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem (opposition not to be sniffed at, although Overeem seems to have caught the under-achievement bug of late) suggested this fight was do or die. A third consecutive loss, against an MMA non-star, could have spelled doom for the young Russian.

As was predictable (though I admittedly sold him short), Russow cut a powerful figure in the ring, all big right hands and tenacious in takedown attempts. It was in light of this that Kharitonov’s eventual submission win impressed. Sergei was under fire, mounted with worrying ease (though by a good wrestler), but his early takedown trip-counter and fight-ending submission evinced a heartening level of grace under fire. As with Ireland, the large and aggressive Russow is a fighter I would like to see again in MMA competition.

Another fight that followed the betting line (presumably: I’m about as far from a betting man as you can get after being stung by the B.J Penn vs. Georges St. Pierre bout) was between middleweight GP champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua and Alistair Overeem.

The Dutchman, like Kharitonov, had been on something of a slide. Actually, after the sudden (apparently injury-based) stoppage he suffered after having the upper hand against Rogerio Nogueira and subsequent tap to Arona getting his back, it might be more pertinent to suggest he’s on rather a major slide. Perhaps like one of those gigantic water slides you get, where you steam halfway around town and think it’s never going to end, before you are finally deposited, gasping, into a pool of your own fear.

It is safe to say that Overeem had not recently been battling to his immense potential, that’s for sure. Bafflingly, the same had recently been whispered in some quarters about ‘Shogun’. Not by me, but whispered nonetheless. There was talk that he had not dispatched Cryille Diabate with sufficient venom, as though a stoppage via stamping your opponent’s face into the blood-stained canvas halfway through the opening stanza were insufficient. He tapped the tough Kevin Randleman in what was essentially one (lengthy) sequence. Most recently, ‘Shogun’ enjoyed a clear decision victory over a much-improved Kazuhiro Nakamura – a legitimate threat to anybody at 205.

If any doubt about young Rua remained, one would hope it was dismissed at Pride 33. Credit to Overeem for opening the bout in a strong, aggressive, and heartening manner, but ‘Shogun’ proved why he is a force of nature by securing a quick victory with one of the most pinpoint-accurate ground and pound shots I have witnessed. Like some sort of Bizarro Superman he flew, with his arm outstretched, directly to Overeem’s jaw. It was a shot of such beauty that there could have been no doubt the fight was over there and then. It is perhaps fortunate for Overeem that numerous other Pride middleweights met brutal ends on this night.

The fight that was most clearly an upset was the near-instantaneous knockout visited upon Antonio Rogerio Nogueira by Pride debutant Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. And that is pretty much all there is to it, as well. Rogerio, who went the distance in 2005 with ‘Shogun’, withstanding massive shots in the process; who is a celebrated boxer in his homeland… was knocked out cold by the erstwhile African Judo champion. And kudos to the Cameroonian, for he beat one of the very best in the world, a man who was at one time rumoured to be challenging for the gold on this very show.

While it may be a tad premature to be sticking Sokoudjou in any top ten list quite yet, his achievement was massive in its stature, and in the gasps of disbelief flying out, along with near-infinite beer, chips and whatever else, of the mouths of the worldwide MMA cognoscenti. Oh, to think how many monocles must have fallen from surprised eyes at the moment that left hand connected.

‘Hands connecting’ was the story of the two main events of this card, and we’re not talking hippified Coke commercials where everyone links up for a sing-song.

Anybody thinking Pride lightweight champ Takanori Gomi was in for an easy night against Nick Diaz was obviously not looking at the big picture. As I predicted, Diaz caught Gomi with some good early shots, and the Japanese fighter returned the favour. Infinite credit where it is due (that being directed, like a laser, in the direction of Diaz), Nick Diaz did not, as I ventured he might, ‘smug his way to a decision loss’.

Obviously fired up both by lost fights that were eminently winnable (this would be where I mention Joe Riggs), and by the magnitude of this event, the Diaz of Pride 33 was a cocky, compelling combination of the Diaz we saw at UFCs 44 and 47. The audience was fortunate to bear witness to the hungry Diaz that so memorably smacked Robbie Lawler six ways from Sunday in 2004 (echoed, brilliantly, in his taunting ‘hands up’ posture: Gomi was as unable to provide an answer as Lawler), but also the vaunted ‘submission specialist’ of 2003 that so impressed in his UFC debut against Jeremy Jackson.

Make no mistake: this non-title bout was a war. Both men suffered damage, and looked in trouble. But it was after the best-possible Bonnar vs. Griffin movement that the true class of a mixed martial artist showed through. Standing and banging will only get you so far in this game (unless you happen to do it as well as, say, Chuck Liddell), and an either tired or punch-drunk Gomi was unable to provide an answer for the Cesar Gracie-trained submission skills of Diaz. The limb length that had afforded him an advantage on the feet played, too, into the endgame as Diaz positioned his lower leg under Gomi’s throat and pulled down. The subsequent stoppage was mere formality.

Gomi was not dominated in this fight. Even in his staggered phase, he managed to throw a damaging knee to Diaz’s body, but the Stockton native was just too much for him. This was really a case of one of the world’s best welterweights beating one of the world’s best lightweights. Prior to the fight, the larger, well-rounded Diaz’s chances seemed too good to be true. In hindsight, though, they were simply too good to be ignored.

Pre-fight size difference played less of a role than anticipated in the marquee fight: champion vs. champion, Silva vs. Henderson. My preview made mention of Henderson’s ability to control through his wrestling, his hard punches, and of Silva’s issues with dominant wrestlers. What I had under-estimated was Henderson’s tenacity, and his ability to wrestle bigger men than himself with success. The easy victory over Vitor Belfort should have acted as sufficient warning, but in that case it was not to easy to determine how much of that was Henderson being great, or Belfort under-achieving.

Admittedly, the Silva who showed up to defend his title in Las Vegas seemed slightly smaller than the jacked wrecking machine of the last few years; perhaps the size difference was not so great in the land of substance tests (not saying Silva is a user, but he was lacking some of his Japanese bulk). Whatever the case, Henderson showed up to fight, and was not to be denied.

The stand-up portions of the battle saw the Team Quest great connect with some grand shots, but it is not as though Silva had not been in his fair share of brawls. The fight seemed to have been sucked out of the Brazilian on the ground. We saw it in that brace of battles with Arona, and we saw it again at Pride 33: Silva is not comfortable when faced with an effective MMA-trained wrestler.

It seems that, rather than bang it out and hope for the best, perhaps Silva would do well to go back to the drawing board and devise a way of dealing with this very definite flaw in his game, or the same fate will befall him again and again. Henderson eventually reached his destination of the middleweight title with a left hand, but his excellent wrestling certainly helped him on the bulk of the journey.

Now he is back to looking like the fighting machine he really is, perhaps he should rematch Kazuo Misaki, who lost a clear decision to Renaissance Man Frank Trigg, while the iron is hot. Holding two belts, he certainly won’t starve for a fight anytime soon. Indeed, perhaps perennial Chuteboxe bridesmaid (I would like to make it very clear I am using the term metaphorically here. Metaphorically) Mauricio ‘Shogun’ can finally have his shot at gold now the belt has been wrested from around the waist of his mentor Silva.

Yes, with two iconic Pride champions tasting bitter, though not totally surprising, stoppage losses, and other big names taking the fall, these are interesting times indeed for Pride FC. I suppose the state of their situation depends on whether one views the glass half-empty or half-full. While it may be true that some of the promotion’s biggest names have lost in dramatic fashion, it is without doubt that the likes of Henderson, Diaz, Trigg and Sokoudjo have seen their stars rise massively within the ranks of the troubled Japanese promotion. And perhaps, in some final dramatic irony, a set of strong American (and African!) figureheads are precisely what the company needs as it sets its sights on coasts far from Japan.
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