23 September 2007

UFC 75

Hyper-late though it may be (and indeed is), I figured it would be in my interests to get this written, simply for the notion of getting a string of UFC write-ups done. And to get the blog updated. (And I must apologise to readers of the blog who don’t like watching idiots fight each other for money; non-MMA writing will return as soon as is humanly possible. But most likely after my thoughts on UFC 76 have sprung, no doubt tardily, up.) So here, without much in the way of further ado, is this.

I haven’t seen any of the under-card bouts as I write now, and in fact I haven’t re-watched the fights I had seen on the night; perhaps I will update as and when relevant. And I am aware that the next instalment of the ongoing UFC odyssey, known as ‘76’ has technically ‘happened’ but, as I am in the UK and trust my viewing pleasure for these cards to Bravo, it is on tonight for me.

I was originally to be at this particular card. However, for reasons unpleasant (and ones that I don’t feel the desire to recount at this juncture), I wasn’t and was doomed to watch it on Setanta. I suppose the silver lining here would be the fact that I didn’t have Setanta until about a week prior to the event, and there would be further lining in the form of the card being on ‘free’ Setanta as opposed to pay-per-view. Quite the lining indeed but, all that said, I wasn’t at the O2 (nor, indeed was I present for any of the recent Prince concerts, but that – even grimmer – revelation is another I care not for explaining), so the grey cloud, lined though it was, loomed over me like the most malevolent cumulonimbus.

(At this point, using up word count: moi?, I would like to mention the writers of the ‘Sherdog’ ‘web’ ‘site’. It would seem that they, like Prometheus, have over-reached in their attempts to write well. In a way, I’m happy, as at least they are now making an effort. Still, it’s pretty sad; filling up columns on MMA with semi-colon usage and bizarre popular cultural references is my gimmick.)

OK, so there was a bunch of fighting at the O2 the other week. I shall start with the fights with which I was least bothered, so as to get them out of the way. Paul ‘The Party Animal’ Taylor vs. Marcus ‘Default’ Davis was exciting while it lasted, with great dynamic swings in whom the fortunes favoured. While both fighters displayed neat striking and killer instinct, it was the quick thinking submission application that separated the twain. Good for him. That said, I don’t care if I never see him again.

Mike ‘The Count’ Bisping vs. Matt ‘Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em’ Hamill was a scary fight for fans of the Brit. I don’t know what it is about fight sports, but they are the only realm of competition where I want my compatriot to win. In fact, it is only in MMA and boxing in which I am not actively willing the Brits/English to take a massive hammering. No idea why that is the case, but here we are. Which reminds me: Good riddance Tim!

Anyway, the fight was close, but in retrospect, reassuringly so. See, if it hadn’t been close, it would have been due to Hamill running away with it. Prior to the confrontation, received wisdom held that, as long as Bisping was able to avoid the takedown, he would be free to punch the American at will. What surprised both I and Bisping, then, was the clean, powerful striking emanating from Hamill.

Not that it was amazing or anything, but punches were thrown with a strength and confidence that threw Bisping off his game in the first round; he was attempting to throw his own strikes while on the retreat. While he regained his composure, and ended up deftly avoiding takedowns by the third round, he seemed to have done little damage compared to that which he had received. So while Bisping won the decision, perhaps in some way ostensibly to appease the British audience, his agitated post-match interview revealed all was not well in the state of Bisping. It will be interesting to see where the two go from here.

I don’t really know what to say about Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic. What was once the most feared fighter in all of mixed martial arts (while Fyodor Emelianenko was always better, it was Filipovic who could end it all, at any moment, with one shot) has been reduced to a shaken, smaller-looking, version of his old self. While I won’t attempt to play the game of ‘what the casual fan thinks’, the fact of the matter is that, with losses to Gabriel Gonzaga and Cheik Congo, his sole American win against unheralded Eddie Sanchez, his presence in the upper UFC echelons is based on name only.

I am also not one to attempt to undermine the import of his loss to Gonzaga in the light of the latter’s undoing at the hands of Randy Couture. UFC 70 is what it is, and losing to the miraculous champion later is neither here nor there in affecting the perception of Gonzaga imposing his will on Filipovic to such a shattering extent. Nor should it affect that career-defining performance. UFC 75, on the other hand, asks questions of Filipovic, rather than making any proclamations on the ability of Kongo.

We have all seen Kongo before; we know he is a big, powerful kickboxer with little else in his skill-set. Indeed, while some said Kongo was the best possible opponent for Filipovic’s presumable return to form on account of he wouldn’t attempt a takedown any time soon, I was always filled with trepidation at the prospect of the Croatian attempting to knock out a fighter with the same techniques as he, but with a far larger frame; Kongo’s icily cool confidence in pre-match interview was ominous indeed.

And so it was that Kongo essentially ‘did a Hamill’ (or, perhaps to be more pertinent, ‘a Hunt’, in reference to the last time a striker walked ‘Cro Cop’ down to win an easy decision). Kongo hit Mirko at will, forcing the favourite on to a back foot from which he would never return. Straits were dire enough by the end of the first round that we nearly bore witness to that second most legendary of MMA punch lines, ‘”Cro Cop” by triangle’. As it was, though, the French fighter escaped that particular section of grappling and returned to his stratagem of regularly kicking the Croat’s body; kicking the fight, quite literally, out of Filipovic.

This win doesn’t mean Kongo is suddenly an elite mixed martial artist, nor does it necessarily mean – as some drama queens have stated – that it should spell the end of Filipovic as a current fighter. Kongo will go on from here and how he performs against more rounded fighters will either see him challenging for the title or returning to dark matches. Filipovic can recover, theoretically should recover but, after these unprecedented two straight losses, I wouldn’t like to bet on it.

Infinitely more heartening was the main event (Quinton Jackson vs. Dan Henderson, for those unaware). Though many have banged on about missed opportunities (Sherdog did admittedly admirably on this front, actually) in hyping the momentous occasion of UFC champion fighting the Pride champion (even if they are both UFC fighters now, both of whom made their professional names in Pride, so perhaps the hype on that front would have been disingenuous), the fight was excellent.

As I thought it would be before the day, this was a close, titanic, struggle that was decided by the bigger, stronger Jackson being that bit more able to implement his game plan and wear down Henderson. Not for me the play-by-play style of fight discussion, but there were numerous moments that stood out to me. First and foremost, though UFC were playing themselves up more than title unification, Jackson’s insane level of pre-fight intensity was heartening compensation, especially as it didn’t drop a jot when Henderson smiled at him. The initial rush by Jackson of Henderson, and Henderson’s subsequent parry, was the perfect start. The swings in momentum kept this fight intriguing, even though – as the bell sounded the end of the fifth – Jackson quite clearly won.

This was a great fight, a display of rounded mixed martial artists. The tilt told a tale of a smaller man going the, very competitive, distance with a bigger, younger man. It told the tale of an erstwhile rough-around-the-edges ‘street fighter’ taking on a decorated amateur wrestler at his own game and winning. It went a long way to wash the foul taste of the numerous Sherk and Sylvia five-rounders from the collective mouth of the MMA fan. Last, but not least, it established who the linear cock of the light heavyweight walk really is.

Just in time for Shogun to debut, then.

01 September 2007

Future Zuffa Broadcasts to Lose Key Commentators? a.k.a. UFC 74

For Total MMA
That’s right, readers. With the events of the recent UFC 74 telecast, it appears as though the esteemed vocal chords of veteran guest commentator Randy ‘The Natural’ Couture and up-and-coming voice of the WEC Frank ‘Lee My Dear I Don’t Give A Damn’ Mir are to remain absent from the airwaves as both commentators were successful in a side gig known as ‘fighting’. OK, that might have been a bit of a stretch, as Couture was already heavyweight champion, but you can’t blame a man for trying. Besides, they are really good in the booth.

All that aside, though, I suppose the show raised a few pertinent questions. One of those is quite clearly ‘who (if anybody) is going to beat Randy Couture?’ we should probably deal with that one before moving on to any further posers. While generally split, the MMA populace had somewhat decided that Gonzaga was a very dangerous fight for Couture. I suppose the fact that Randy dismantled his young Brazilian challenger so comprehensively is kind of the reason why he is Randy Couture and we’re not. Yes, in another display of strategic acumen and fighting skill, Couture decided he would neither swing with the stocky Gonzaga nor risk two-hundred-and-fifty pounds of jiu-jitsu in his face by herding him into the fence and draining his will to live in the dreaded Couture clinch.

It was only recently that I actively realised that Couture’s clinch is one of the most devastating weapons in modern MMA, along with the likes of Fedor’s ground-and-pound, ‘Cro Cop’s left roundhouse, Shinya Aoki’s rubber guard and Tank Abbott’s body odour. I have no idea why this realisation should have come so recently, because I can barely recall a time when it wasn’t an incredibly dangerous weapon. It was certainly the primary difference between the first Couture-Liddell fight (which Couture won, fact fans!), and the other two (in which Couture was parted with his consciousness in much the same way an unwary traveller would be separated from his wallet in Dubai. Seriously).

Of course, this impressive display of fighting nous sent lesser writers scurrying to their crayons in paroxysms of wonder about how Couture was defying the otherwise immutable passage of time; how he has been sent from the future (because, silly, when we do manage to get the space-time continuum to bend to our whims, priority #1 will be to send a middle aged man to the recent past in order to beat people up. Well, I guess it worked in Terminator 2). The reality is far more prosaic than that: Couture is a very smart man who seems to live in an incredibly clean fashion. And when compared to fighters who seem to be slowing, like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he is arguably aided by the fact that his losses have come to Chuck Liddell rather than, say, Fedor Emelianenko. Now, I’m no brain surgeon (which explains writing about people fighting as a hobby), but personally I’d rather be sparked out by a single shot than pummelled mercilessly for twenty minutes by a Russian heavyweight. That’s it: Couture has a body that hasn’t been regularly concussed (compared to other mid-forties professional fighters), and he is incredibly good at enacting his battle stratagems.

And speaking of strategising, being smart and Russians who ground-and-pound, we arrive at our theoretical answer to the original question. The fan favourite in terms of ‘who can beat Randy?’ is none other than Fedor Emelianenko, A.K.A. the greatest fighter ever in mixed martial arts ever, ever, ever. Err, since 1993. But seeing as we are discussing this very topic in the next issue of this fine publication, I’ll say no more.

Another, less big, question proffered by the show was whether the speedy victory of one Frank Mir over an Antoni Hardonk was evidence that the ‘old’ Frank Mir was, indeed, back. I would certainly say so. ‘But why?’, I hear you ask, ‘he only had a quick fight, we didn’t see any great feats of stamina or really anything outside an effective application of a submission hold’. And, to that, I would say ‘exactly, mortal!’ Mir made his name (in fights with the likes of Roberto Traven, Pete Williams, ‘Tank’ Abbott and ‘Tim’ Sylvia) by forcing quick submissions (none of the above fights went over sixty-five seconds each). None of those were wars, and none of them involved any great displays of intestinal fortitude or stamina.

When he was forced to go over sixty-five seconds, against such non-elite fighters as Wes Sims and Ian Freeman, he suddenly didn’t look so hot. So it is for all of the above that I say the ‘old’ Frank Mir is indeed back, as the Hardonk fight exemplifies what Mir became famous for. Some say time will tell whether Mir is back, blah blah bling bling blah, but as far as I’m concerned, time will really be the judge of whether the ‘old’ Frank Mir was actually great shakes to begin with.

I reckon that’s probably it in terms of questions, leaving us primarily with that finest of media wines, controversy. Yes, the under-card bore witness to probably the most intense fight of the night (and the answer to another question – OK, so I was wrong – of where all that blood on the canvas had come from. It came from David Heath’s head). Apparently, Heath had called Renato ‘Babalu’ Sobral a ‘motherfucker’. Some say Heath wore Sobral’s recent mug-shot on a t-shirt at the weigh-in. Whatever happened, Sobral was irked, and he made this known in incredibly visceral fashion as he spread Heath’s plasma onto the canvas like so much I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter before gator rolling into an anaconda choke.

This would ordinarily have been an exquisite end to the fight, as evinced perfectly by Nogueira-Herring II, and rather less so by Couture-Van Arsdale, were it not for the fact that Heath tapped out and then… nothing happened. Nothing continued to happen when bizarrely-moustached referee Steve Mazzagatti attempted to loosen Sobral’s grip on Heath. Only when Heath was unconscious did ‘Babalu’ relinquish the hold, and then lots of people started crying about Sobral’s conduct. The Nevada State Athletic Commission withheld the win bonus, and Dana White cut ties with the last light-heavyweight to beat divisional golden boy Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua.

According to White, the ramifications of Sobral’s behaviour would have been far more severe if what he had held onto was a joint lock as opposed to a choke. Sure, I can get behind that; nobody wants to see permanent injuries in MMA, especially within the moral grey area the sport inhabits in the minds of many powers that be. The one fact White seemed to be overlooking here was that Sobral wasn’t holding onto a joint lock. Reverend White’s sermonising was the equivalent to claiming that Wanderlei ‘The Axe Murderer’ Silva would be a very bad man if he was literally an axe murderer.

In the real world, Silva is not actually an axe murderer, Matt Wiman is not actually handsome, Sean Sherk isn’t a ‘muscle shark’ (largely because that one doesn’t exist), and Sobral wasn’t breaking anyone’s ankle or arm. Not to excuse his behaviour, as I know I wouldn’t want to be choked out after tapping, and it must have sucked to be Heath for those seconds (and the preceding minutes. And during the Machida fight), but there seemed to be a level of MMA jungle law on display here. Fighter A gets somehow wronged by Fighter B; Fighter A finds himself in a position of dominance and decides to teach Fighter B a lesson. I’m not saying this is right, but Sobral no more deserves firing than B.J. Penn, or Martin Kampmann for that matter.

Perhaps it’s a matter of penitence; Kampmann expressed ignorance about Drew McFedries being unconscious and Penn playfully dismissed his bit of bonus choking. Sobral, on the other hand, explained his behaviour by making reference to the ‘motherfucker’ accusation.

I don’t know, if I’m David Heath, maybe I should train hard to make sure I don’t get completely dominated, rather than expending my energy on trying to get under someone’s skin? And if controversy occurs on the under-card does it really make a sound? And does a couple of seconds of choking really justify the jettison of an elite light-heavyweight? Is it ironic that this occurred on a card named ‘Respect’? Is choking someone out in the heat of competition really a more heinous P.R. crime than getting arrested for misdemeanour battery this past July? I knew I shouldn’t have said that was the end of the questions. Whatever the case, Sobral must now be feeling like a bit of an idiot for his display of hubris.

Final thought: Am I the only person who is really starting to resent the constant UFC fellation of Roger Huerta? Quite apart from making a career of exclusively fighting (admittedly game) UFC debutants, the amount of praise being lavished on him is sickening. Yes, the strategy of using the big screen to see his opponent was novel, but ‘redefining intelligence’, as Goldberg moistly proclaimed? Maybe a couple of those elbows split an atom or two without my knowledge.
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