28 February 2007

Conspiracy Theories, Subterfuge… and I'm not Talking 24


I promised myself (and, by extension, the rest of the world) that I would not fall into the trap of writing weekly updates on Lost, The O.C. or anything else, but notes must be made on recent happenings.

Perhaps news has reached you, the dear reader, of the ongoing discord between Richard Branson’s Virgin Media empire and Rupert Murdoch’s NewsReich. It seems that, due to arms being folded, toys being thrown out of prams and certain executives’ mums being dissed (it was alleged that Branson’s mother was ‘so dumb, she thought a quarterback was a tax refund’), Virgin Media’s digital cable wing might not carry Sky programming for much longer.

The knock-on effect for me is that I (as I signed up with NTL, who apparently got bought out without my knowledge) might lose Lost, 24 and to be honest: not much else. The rest of Sky’s TV (from Britain’s Toughest Pubs III to Dom Joly Traipsing around America Getting Ratarsed and all points betwixt) can fall of the face of the Earth as far as I’m concerned. And they can take Murdoch with them, as they plunge into the wide open nothingness of space, their heads popping in unison like a collection of synchronised Nazi exploding robots.

Anyway, til I find information out for sure, I will shut up about it. Except to mention the strange pauses I experienced while I was trying to watch those two programmes that I like a lot. I am used to signals going on the blink when at friends’ houses. They have crappy antennas, though, not the thick lustrous cable I was blessed with. And the pauses lasted for about five minutes at a time, and I even missed the tag of 24 (that’s the ending, for those of you not au fait with Telly Speak). Weirdly, Sky 2 seemed to work, though I opted for frozen images over the rancid bollockfest that Sky actually produces.

And that got me thinking: maybe Branson was sabotaging Sky broadcasts on his service. After all, Sky was running adverts so masturbatory that I had to wipe the digital semen off my disgusted face: ‘we at Sky make the best programmes ever. Sadly, those bastards at Virgin Media do not want you to see our great shows and have decided not to pay us. Therefore you, the customer, are screwed’.

It might have been a good strategy if they were freezing out the breaks, but they were instead screwing me over, which isn’t quite so effective. Still, I await with baited breath Branson’s next move. Perhaps when Sky goes to break, a machine will whirr into action as the Sky Propaganda Blips come on, flooding the screen with darkness. A disembodied Branson head will then come on, slowly rotating as it intones a looped mantra of ‘Sky sucks, Sky sucks…’, all the while backed by a dubstep re-working of Tubular Bells.

* * *


I spotted the presence in tonight’s O.C. credits of one ‘Kevin Sorbo’. The name was just slotted in there, with nary a ‘With Special Guest’ prefix accompanying his name – as though he were merely a regular jobbing actor! In case any clarification were needed – and to those reading this, I would hope not – we are dealing with not just ‘Kevin Sorbo’, but SORBO. You have to read that half-growling, half-shouting, as though you were a cartoon super-villain (or, if you’re into Neurosis, as though you would say ‘windstorm’)

SORBO first found fame in that pulpy, trashy pile of pulp trash Hercules: the Legendary Journeys, wherein he would get chased around by women a lot and constantly have to save his sidekick Aeolus, a squat, gurning character who looked like a kind of ancient Greek Les Dennis. Still, the show was helmed by Sam ‘Evil Dead’ Raimi (who also co-wrote The Hudsucker Proxy, so he gets bonus points til the cows come home) and occasionally featured the king of bit-parts, Bruce Campbell. I am pretty sure I saw SORBO in a Jim Beam ad before this, but what can you do. After this, he went on to star in some Star Trek thing, which is neither as interesting nor amusing.

Anyway, I have to admit I was well pleased when SORBO turned up in Newport. Spying, no less! It turned out that he is a friend of Julie’s current beau, one ‘Bullet’. He got installed in Julie and Kirsten’s bidneth as some kind of financial advisor, saw Julie was running a male ‘escort’ ‘service’, and decided to keep schtum. For a price. When he gave his hotel number to Julie, we all assumed the worst but the reveal was far more dramatic than we could have reasonably expected.

See, when Sandy saw SORBO, he got that sense you get when you think you have seen someone somewhere before. So he did what any sane man does on New Year’s Eve: you go back to your office and pore over files in the hope that you have had dealings with this stranger in the past. Funnily enough, what SORBO wanted from Julie was dirt on the Cohen family. Coincidence, huh. Anyway, the most humongous reveal in the history of the show was oddly not the litany of offences committed by SORBO on the human race, but the character’s real surname: ATWOOD.

While that doesn’t quite work as well in caps as SORBO, it is nevertheless of great import, as it means he is Ryan’s real father. I readily admit that I exclaimed, aloud, and at quite some volume when that happened. The O.C. may well have ended up being watched by about three and a half people, and has now breathed its last, but the ability to enthral is still there; a relief considering the crapulence of last week’s episode.

Anyway, there is still time before the show finishes over here, so perhaps Virgin Media can really quickly fall out with more media conglomerates. The official ruling will apparently come later in the day…

26 February 2007

Pride 33 Thoughts: Part One

Usually (in other words, when Pride run shows in Japan), I like to watch the event live, and react accordingly. Opting to sleep instead of watch this Las Vegas live, I have opted to watch this show on a match by match basis – beginning with those near the end of the card. I.E. the ones I want to see most. However, after having seen the whole thing, I will endeavour to have this post make sense in chronological order. You will also notice that I throw the concept of self-editing out of the window for these posts. Sorry.

Match One (watched third):
Joachim ‘Hellboy’ Hansen (Norway)
-vs-
Jason ‘Is Wearing a Kilt’ Ireland (USA)


Hansen is an awesome fighter, and definitely one of my personal favourites. While he beat such greats as Takanori Gomi in Shooto, he made his name on the big stage when he knocked out legendary Caol Uno with a brutal knee to the face in a classic match.

He went to Pride and beat the likes of Luiz Azeredo and Yves Edwards. More recently, though, he is coming off a few losses including a decision to Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai, a DQ to Tatsuya Kawajiri and a submission to the excellent Shinya Aoki. Hansen comes to the ring sadly devoid of his usual pseudo-Black Metal theme tune. Moody rock isn’t really his scene, but I’m not about to tell him that to his face. Russow, despite the comedy nickname I gave him (it transpires his official moniker is ‘The Irish Tornado’, but I can’t be bothered editing that in), looks like he definitely means business.

META: the thing is with downloading fights, you generally know whether they are going long or short. That said. I am not complaining, because the internet is a glorious thing that allows me to watch this stuff. Anyway, this fight look s like it will be quite long. The lightweights having long fights tends to indicate it will be pretty good. Anyway, I’m going to watch the whole ting and get back to you with thoughts.

OK, the first round is over, and my optimism was rewarded. Hansen was dominant with takedowns, and ground control. One beautiful sequence saw Hansen gain a takedown with a clinch, then rolling through into getting Ireland’s back. Heartening was Ireland’s positive round-ending flurry of strikes.

The second round was also very engaging, though Hansen-dominated once more. Less than a minute into the round, Hansen caught Ireland with a good punch, following it up with what seemed like a deadly clinch and knees to the head combination. The file has nine minutes left at this stage, though, so I knew the match was not yet over.

Still, Hansen had back mount for a lot of the fight and, though briefly stifled by Ireland’s solid defence, ended the round with some pummelling in an attempt to get Ireland to defend with his arm, at which point Hansen would be able to get the arm-bar. As aforementioned, Ireland has tough defences, and he survived until the bell. Worth mentioning is the scowl Hansen gave the camera, as though frustrated by the lightweight immovable object he was presented with.

Impressive, too, is a Manowar reference from ever-dorky Barnett. Also, Hansen starts the third round by raising his hands in an apparently cocky gesture. The two decide to throw down, but the only throwing down turns out to be Hansen throwing Ireland down with another Thai clinch. He echoes Nogueira with his triangle choke to arm-bar sequence and, as Barnett pointed out, perhaps this was more of an intentional reference to the way Hansen lost to Aoki on December 31st. Hansen proved he learns quickly by forcing the (eventual) submission from a game, but over-matched, Ireland.

Match Two (watched fifth):
Frank ‘Twinkle Toes’ Trigg (USA)
-vs-
Kazuo Misaki (Japan)


It is good to see Trigg back in action. I never really thought he should retire just because he had been on a bad run – most of that run included losses to Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, and they only tend to lose to each other nowadays. So Trigg recently returned to action and won impressively against the really good Jason ‘Mayhem’ Miller for ICON Sports. Nice one.

I don’t really know what to think about Misaki. He’s good, and no doubt about that (you don’t beat the each of Baroni, Henderson and Kang by being a sucker), but I get a weird feeling about him. He seems to do really well without being especially good at anything. He fights intelligently, and to his strengths, and I guess that should be applauded, but he just doesn’t wow me much. This is partly because he won the recent welterweight GP after having lost in the semi final. An injury to finalist Paulo Filho led to Misaki taking his place (after Filho beat Misaki), and eventually winning the whole shebang. Credit where it’s due etc. I just hope Trigg smashes him, which might be a hope too far.

Into the third round, and I hope Trigg gets the inevitable decision here. He has essentially dominated the action, owning Misaki’s back, but neither man looked close to ending things. Decent fight, but I never really get the urge to re-watch Misaki fights. Nice one; Trigg got a unanimous decision. In terms of the big picture, he has now beaten the welter GP champion. He has wrestled his way into a great position in the rankings. In fact, with Anderson be-bopping and scatting all over his opponents in the UFC 185 lb division, perhaps Dana White is regretting severing ties with Trigg. He is, after all, a tough, well rounded fighter with good takedowns and top control – someone who could theoretically give Silva problems.

Match Three (watched sixth):
Travis Wiuff (USA)
-vs-
James Lee (USA)


I am largely indifferent ot this fight, to be honest. Wiuff’s claim to fame for me (apart from the fact that you pronounce his name pretty much the opposite to how it is spelt: ‘Phew!’) is that he got tapped out by Renato Sobral who is, if not my favourite light heavyweight, in the top three. James Lee is a stranger to me. In fact, I got him confused with a British lightweight initially.

Lee dropped Phew in about the first second of action, and now they’re rolling around like they’re at school and one of them dissed the other’s gyal. After about seven seconds of rolling around, Lee gets the win with a guillotine choke. Rather fitting, really, as I’m sure I used that at some point in school. We just called them headlocks, though. And I didn’t get paid for doing them either.

Match Four (watched seventh):
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Brazil)
-vs-
Rameau Sokoudjou (Cameroon)


This should probably be pretty quick, because Rogerio is arguably the best in the world at 205 (not an argument I would make, but still), and Rameau is pretty new to the fight game. He is also predominantly a grappler (African judo champion, no less), so I expect Rogerio to box him out. But will I be correct~?

Nicholas Cage is in the audience. Do I not like that actor. Sokoudjou impresses me early with kicks, and JESUS CHRIST SORRY FOR THE CAPS, I HATE THEM TOO, BUT HE HAS JUST SPARKED OUT NOGUEIRA. Jiminy Jillikers. Wow, it was a near-secret left hand right on the button, and Sokoudjou just booked himself right into the light heavyweight top ten. And for those seeking answers: no, I was not correct.

Match Five (watched eighth):
Hayato ‘Mach’ Sakurai (Japan)
-vs-
Mac Danzig (USA)


Mach vs. Mac. Sadly, the parallel is not quite serendipitous (if, indeed, it would have been anyway), because ‘Mach’ is apparently pronounced ‘Maha’. There is rather a pleasant little story accompanying this tilt: Danzig (awesome surname, by the way) apparently grew up idolising Sakurai, so this is something of a humbling event for him. It also means he ostensibly knows Sakurai’s fighting style inside out. The question is whether this homework can neutralise the size, skill and experience of the lightweight tournament finalist Sakurai. Well, the night has been one of upsets, so let’s see…

Sakurai is apparently ‘excited to knock out an American in America’, and I am glad the art of working a crowd is not dead. The first round was quality, as there was no deference from Danzig, and plenty of action. The highlight had to be the beautiful hip toss into arm bar attempt by Sakurai. The submission was not forthcoming, and I am excited for round two.

Sakurai was something to behold in this round. While Danzig was dancing around him and throwing punches, ‘Mach’ merely stood, calmly in the centre of the ring. Slightly reminiscent of a Komodo dragon biting its prey and waiting for it to die, he waited patiently, and threw a punch at the right time. He threw a low kick at the right time. For minutes, he stood, waited and released at the right time. Before the round ended, and after those low kicks had accumulated on Danzig’s leg, he hit the American with a single blow that left him crumpled on the mat.

The upset was not to be, but this round was a masterclass in how to keep calm and undo a more active opponent. This is what I meant by the experience of Sakurai.

Pride 33 Thoughts: Part Two

Match Six (watched second):
Sergei ‘the Siberian Tiger’ Kharitonov (Russia)
-vs-
Mike ‘Hadn’t Earned a Nickname’ Russow (USA)


Next up is a heavyweight who lost to an inspired Overeem during the 2006 open-weight Grand Prix. After a promising start in Pride, when he went the distance with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and brutalised current double K-1 GP champion Semmy Schilt, Russian Sergei Kharitonov has been on something of a backslide. After losing a brutal fight with Aleksander Emelianenko, he will be hoping to put Russow away in highlight-reel style. I know nothing about Russow, so there you go. He is apparently a police officer in Chicago. Oh, apparently a very good wrestler too.

I have to say ‘The Siberian Tiger’ is a pretty awesome name for Kharitonov, who had put in his time in the Russian armed forces and facially looks about twice his twenty six years. He has Sambo experience, but will probably be looking to use his heavy, heavy hands against debutant Russow. Can he avoid the Russow takedown?

We are on the introductions, and I love how the Russians always get anonymous Euro-house to come out to. He is announced as ‘from Russia… with love’ but, looking at him, he practices tough love. If any. Oh nice one, I forgot Josh Barnett was on commentary. This should be fun. I somehow managed to go through the Rua-Overeem fight without noticing this fact.

And we’re off. Russow is predictably desperate for a takedown, but Sergei is having none of it. He wants to hit the low leg kicks. I say that, but Russow catches one and gets a takedown. He passes into side-mount and I am not a fan of this. Russow got mount for a second but, when he started the ground and pound, Sergei got antsy and flipped him. He tries to stand, but Russow is on that leg like a bulldog. The American hits an admittedly sweet takedown, and Kharitonov is thankfully able to slip out of a can opener-attempt (neck crank).

With Russow over him, Kharitonov is able to get an armbar and the win! Russow protests that the match should not be over because he didn’t give in (in a manner reminiscent of when Frank Mir broke Tim Sylvia’s arm in the UFC). The difference is that Sylvia didn’t tap – he got stopped when his forearm snapped – and the replay definitely shows Russow making that tap. After such poor sportsmanship, I doubt we will see too much more of Russow in that minimalist-white Pride ring.

Match Seven (watched first):
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua (Brazil)
-vs-
Alistair ‘the Demolition Man’ Overeem (Holland)


I have chosen to watch this first, largely because it finished downloading first. It is also a very tense fight for me, because I like Overeem a lot, and he has an alarming propensity to lose any given match he is in. this is a great shame because he is a light heavyweight (middleweight in Pride categories), who is six-foot-five, has great, Dutch-bred Thai boxing, and a deadly guillotine choke. Nevertheless, he has lost fights recently in weird ways. One is discussed here. Another was when he was enjoying dominance against the great Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and, apparently due to an existing injury, had to retire from the fight prematurely.

Sadly for Overeem, he is tonight facing Rua, who is arguably the best in the world at the weight. He already boasts a stoppage win over Overeem (in the 2005 middleweight Grand Prix semi-final), and is consistently excellent. For this reason, I am scared. Anyway, the match is beginning, and we have Joey Pantoliano look-alike Steve Mazzagatti as ref.

Active start from Overeem, which is heartening. An attempt at a Thai clinch, even. Best not to get too crazy with Shogun, though, who will deal with you. Overeem catches a kick and gets a trip, but decides, wisely, not to go to ground with the Chuteboxe supremo. I am very pleased with Overeem’s mood in this fight. Rather than being intimidated by Shogun, he is really bringing it with confidence and aggression. However, they go to ground, and Shogun is attempting an arm-lock. Hammerlock position, but not behind his back, and Overeem is able to power out of it into a sprawl, and back to their feet. Overeem gets taken down again, and the game of cat and mouse, between the ground and pound and the up-kicks, is engaging.

However, like a middleweight Fyodor, Shogun hits an immense diving Superman punch right to the button. Follow-up ground and pound is a formality as Joey Pants steps in to stop the action. This was entertaining enough, though disappointingly brief. One wonders where Overeem goes from here.

Match Eight (watched fourth):
Takanori ‘Fireball Kid’ Gomi (lightweight champion, Japan)
-vs-
Nick Diaz (USA)


As I mentioned in my preview, this is my most eagerly awaited match. Read the preview for reasons why, but suffice it to say that I fully expect this to be a barnstormer. Gomi, being lightweight champion and all-round Pride golden boy, gets a great, ‘urban’ intro video. Infringing a bit on The Rock’s gimmick by being announced as ‘the People’s Champion’, but I doubt The Rock cares at this stage anyway.

‘Rascal vs. Rogue’ is a pretty cool tagline for this, actually. Gomi has a naughty streak (as evinced by his post-bell assault on Luiz Azeredo), but Diaz really isn’t a man to be messed with. Aside: the voiceover on these video packages reminds me of Aku from excellent animated show Samurai Jack. Gomi enters to his usual theme tune of ‘Scary’ by Mad Capsule Markets, and it never stops sounding like The Skids’ ‘Into the Valley’. There are fifteen minutes left in this file, so I am definitely hyped for this.

The first round was as excellent a five-minute stanza of fighting as I have ever seen. While not the most amazing display of technical acumen, it was full of drama and momentum swings. Gomi was in charge for the first half of the round, with initial ground and pound, when the two started trading on the feet, the longer Diaz was landing more, and cleaner, shots, but it was Gomi who dropped his opponent.

Diaz toughed out this sequence and recovered to gain the advantage as the round came to a close. The last minute or two was spent with Diaz teeing off on Gomi, who was channelling Naseem Hamed, as he bobbed and weaved with his arms down for all he was worth. The Diaz attack seemed to lack the power to knock Gomi out, but the Japanese fighter definitely seemed tired and woozy, and glad the round was over. Despite my initial thoughts, that round had to go to the Stockton, California native.

The second round was quite unbelievable. Diaz got opened up by a Gomi knee but came back with strikes. Gomi replied with a takedown, but Diaz used his flexible length to choke Gomi against his left shin. Gomi went out, and Diaz pulled off what was probably the biggest upset since, err… Gomi got choked out by Marcus Aurelio, in another non-title fight. One thing is for sure: the stock of Diaz has just skyrocketed. This was amazing stuff.

Match Nine (watched ninth):
Dan ‘Hollywood’ Henderson (welterweight champion, USA)
-vs-
Wanderlei ‘the Axe Murderer’ Silva (middleweight champion, Brazil)


I had to save the main event for last; it just seemed right. Pride is really laying the UFC references on thick, what with showing footage of Rampage smashing Chuck Liddell (complete with caption of ‘UFC Champion’), and also of Silva mashing Rampage into paste. But hey, I suppose if you own the footage, why not?

I must also add the sense of occasion I feel at watching this show. Back when I was ten, I watched my first ever American pro-wrestling show (WrestleMania VI), which had the main event of Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan. That was a title vs. title fight (the Intercontinental belt vs. the WWF belt; the Ultimate Warrior took home all the marbles, as it were). Anyway, the point is that there is something special about two-belt matches. Obviously Silva cannot win the welterweight belt, the fight being at 205 lbs and all, but that doesn’t detract from the epic feel of this clash.

A nice Pride touch is the playing of respective national anthems before a title fight. Amusement came when Chuck Norris, standing next to Nicholas Cage, didn’t have his hand on his heart when the star Spangled Banner was playing. He must have noticed himself on the big screen, as he put down whatever he had been holding and clutched his hand awkwardly to his chest. And is it Americans’ patriotic duty to cheer for Harrison Ford during the anthem? Anyway, I am officially hyped for this fight, even if Silva is much bigger than Henderson.

First round: with Silva on top of Henderson, I would like to take this opportunity to say how nice it is to have Frank Trigg and Josh Barnett on commentary: rarely does an MMA show have two commentators who can really empathise with the in-ring competitors. A big ‘U-S-A’ chant erupts in case Henderson forgets where he is fighting. Halfway into the round, and there have been two restarts due to inactivity. The two fighters obviously have a lot of respect for each other, but it must be mentioned that Henderson has not been afraid, thus far, to throw leather.

The round was definitely entertaining, as both fighters eventually just decided to start randomly throwing punches at each other, seemingly in some kind of tribute to the first Griffin vs. Bonnar fight. Both men seemed rocked at times, with Silva displaying a tad more killer instinct.

The second round has ended, and I’m giving this one to Henderson: one each, then. Hendo got early takedowns, the second of which lasted the duration. He was very active indeed from the top, with impressive ground and pound using both fist and shoulder. Silva could not escape from the predicament, and Henderson even threw some knees early. If we are looking at the whole fight, Henderson has to be currently ahead; I was about to say that Silva needs a finish at this stage, but I’m not even sure how many rounds they are booked to fight. Is it five, like a UFC title fight?

O… K. it seems Pride has only its second middleweight champion ever, and a double champ at that, as Silva gets knocked out for the second time in the space of about six months. And this after he showed initial promise early in the round. The commentators were banging on about a left hook Silva had thrown, only to see the fight end with Henderson’s left. It always seemed that the wild swinging sessions in the middle of the ring might end in tears, and it would seem that Henderson’s swinging was that bit more controlled in the end, as he caught Silva on the sweet spot, dropping him instantly.

Post-match amusement came as Henderson shouted ‘USA!’ while Pride honcho Mr. Sakakibara was reading the official title-bestowing speech. Also, with the towering interviewer (he was taller than every fighter he interviewed) ordering him to remove his mouth-guard. Still, credit where it’s due, Henderson holds all the gold, and Pride is now in a serious booking mess.

Still, with the belt being removed from Silva’s waist, this does mean Shogun can get his long-awaited title shot. I don’t see Henderson surviving that, but then I didn’t see him surviving this one. What do I know? Anyway, brilliance as Henderson mentioned that he wants a third belt and can’t make lightweight. Fyodor Emelienanko would most definitely smash him into paste.

23 February 2007

Pride 33 Preview


I have had the strangest feeling since the calendar flipped over to the two-double oh-seven. Maybe it’s just me, but this year so far has felt slightly bereft of MMA action. Perhaps this is due to the anti-climax of the debut EliteXC show, or because UFC 67 was as good as we were expecting, and that very lack of surprise made it less memorable than it perhaps should have been.

That is definitely weird, because the EXC boasted some good matches, as well as something of a spotlight for female MMA; similarly, the UFC show was good. Jackson and Filipovic got their stoppages (omission of cemetery kicks and massive slams should not detract from the important fact that they did not ‘do a Herring’), and we got to see the excellent Griffin-Edgar bout.

Perhaps this feeling of MMA-lnutrition is a subconscious reaction to the masses of shows we were fortunate to witness in the glorious-for-business 2006. I know that getting two major shows in under a month and a half would have felt like manna from heaven just a few short years ago.

I have come to the conclusion that perhaps what my traditionalist mind has been missing is a good old Pride show to warm the cockles in this bleak midwinter. Granted, recent months have seen talent poached by other organisations, and the grim spectre of death stalks the apparently moribund promotion at every turn. Even that most energising of theme tunes has echoed out over the PA system at Zuffa-owned shows.

Call me an old romantic, but there is nothing quite like a promising Pride card to get me excited about people fighting each other for pecuniary advantage. And call me a sucker for hype but Pride 33, taking place in Las Vegas this weekend, is what I would call a promising card. Let’s face it, I would probably be happy if the card consisted of Dan Henderson vs. Wanderlei Silva, Takanori Gomi vs. Nick Diaz and little else. And that’s a good thing, because that is pretty much the crux of the matter. Still, we do get to see Hayato Sakurai, the ever-exciting Joachim Hansen (win or lose, and thankfully it is usually the former, his fights are never boring) and a heap more.

The main event is, of course, a rematch between two of the fightingest fighters in the world of fights. Wanderlei Silva is pretty much as brutal as it gets, as he made his name destroying Kazushi Sakuraba at a time when people just didn’t destroy Sakuraba. Silva, in fact, seemed to make a living stomping holes in natives, as the likes of Yuki Kondo and Kazuhiro Nakamura took pretty immense beatings from the flagship fighter of Curitiba’s Chuteboxe academy. A recent jaunt to the heavyweight division saw mixed blessings, as he stopped the previously pretty immovable object that was Kazuyuki Fujita, before falling to Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ Filipovic; no source of shame to get beaten by the most dangerous striker in MMA.

Back at middleweight (205 lbs, which is obviously light heavyweight for most of us Westerners), and Silva is matched against the smaller Dan Henderson. Rumours once abounded that Silva would face the ever-excellent Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but the decision was made that an American might be more pertinent to headline a card in America, and so Hendo was the bookers’ choice.

Of course, I would never say Team Quest stalwart Henderson is chopped liver in this fight; before Dream Stage Entertainment created a 183 lb division, he made a very nice living fighting larger men than he. ‘Hollywood’ Henderson went up against both Nogueira brothers, and even Wanderlei himself, in the past. While not victorious, his quality as a fighter shone through. Suffice it to say that when he got a weight class he could be comfortable in, he took the title.

Yes, with Silva still middleweight champion (partly because he has been fighting at heavyweight, partly because he and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua won’t fight each other, partly because his tournament loss to Ricardo Arona was non-title), this is a champion vs. champion bout. I can’t really see Henderson winning this, to be honest.

Not only is Silva naturally larger than Henderson, but he seems to be a bad fit for the American. A wrestler who is comfortable on his feet, Henderson likes to wait for a chance to land his famed right hand on unfortunate jaws. Unfortunately for him, Silva is a striker by trade and, unless Hendo has been working diligently on a jab to distance the two and set up his killer shot, it seems he will just be out-gunned when it comes to the striking game.

With Silva enjoying a striking advantage, and pretty decent when it comes to grappling (let’s face it, he’s gone to two decisions with Hidehiko Yoshida without being tapped, so he must be doing something right – even if Yoshida does like to stand and trade), Henderson’s major advantage in this fight is in the wrestling. The brace of fights Silva had with Arona (the latter being Silva’s successful defence of the title in a ridiculously close fight) evince an issue Silva has with good wrestlers who can control their opponent. That said, I don’t see that being such a major factor this weekend; this will be where the Brazilian’s size advantage will really benefit him.

Probably the most intriguing fight of the card for this particular correspondent features the Pride lightweight (that’ll be about 161 lbs then) champion in action against traditionally welterweight (that being American welterweight, 170 lbs) warrior Nick Diaz. Objectivity aside, I love Diaz. I liked his UFC debut against Jeremy Jackson, but it was really his (at the time) shocking knockout win over then-UFC golden boy Robbie Lawler (and I say that in a non-derisory manner; I am glad that Lawler seems to be somewhat back. I shall have to find out what he has been doing since claiming victory over Joey Villasenor, actually) that really woke the world up to his quality.

Since that fight, Diaz has been considered one of the best welters in the game, and with good reason. He has also been regarded as something of a loudmouth which, as far as I’m concerned, is excellent. Diaz is a vibrant personality, who I find compelling at every turn. Sometimes his cocky demeanour seems to over-ride his focus (he really should have knocked out Joe Riggs in the first round, when he had the chance. Silly loss) but, having recently beaten Josh Neer, it’s not like he is slacking too much.

UFC was apparently thinking about giving him a slot on the Ultimate Fighter: The Comeback show but decided against it. It wouldn’t really have been a comeback anyway, but he probably would have steamed through the competition. Seriously, and with all due respect, what exactly would have Matt Serra have done to him?

Funnily enough, Diaz’s opponent on this card is someone who Serra beat in grappling competition (though Serra would likely vanquish Diaz in a pure grappling contest too): Takanori Gomi.

I have gone on at length in the past about Gomi, how unstoppable he once seemed, and how that perception was apparently permanently besmirched when he was choked unconscious by Marcus ‘my favourite lightweight’ Aurelio. I don’t really need to add anything other than the basics: he had ten straight wins in Pride’s super-competitive lightweight division. He avenged his loss last year to Aurelio, and then absolutely steamrolled the other recent victor over Aurelio, Gomi’s compatriot Mitsuhiro Ishida. That would all put him firmly back at the top of the Pride heap (and just in time for this year’s lightweight tournament. Super).

That this fight is apparently playing out at lightweight has to put a smile on Gomi’s face. Naturally smaller than the rangy, six foot Diaz, he will be far more comfortable at the weight than a Diaz who might resemble a skeleton when he fights. While Gomi likes to pound out victories and also occasionally choke victims out, he would be advised not to go to ground against the Cesar Gracie-instructed Californian.

Indeed, while Diaz has made a habit of smacking opponents’ lights out, he entered the UFC with a reputation as a pure grappler. While not quite a B.J. Penn or Marcus Aurelio (two men who gave Gomi pretty humbling losses) on the mat, he is still someone the Japanese warrior will not want to mess with. So that leaves the stand-up battle. As aforementioned, Diaz is taller, and has a history of knocking people out. Still, it is hard to bet against Gomi in this one.

Not only should the lightweight status of this fight favour Gomi, but he is ostensibly a more diligent fighter in terms of getting the job done. His fondness for body shots might also be a telling factor. One thing is for sure: neither fighter is likely to back down, or give his opponent any more respect than is absolutely necessary. This has the potential to be a war. It wouldn't surprise me if Diaz caught Gomi with a couple of hard early shots, then spent the rest of the fight smugging his way to a decision loss.

Thoughts and hopes (though not necessarily predictions) on some other bouts on the card:

Shogun should duplicate his 2005 victory over the frustratingly under-achieving Alistair Overeem; the latter really needs a win, but it will be hard to attain. Both pale Europeans Sergei Kharitonov and Joachim Hansen should brutalise their adversaries (Mike Russow and Jason Ireland, respectively) with respective fists and knees. Mach over Mac, probably via first-round KO. I will be rooting for Renaissance man Trigg over Kazuo Misaki, but the Japanese fighter has tamed the likes of Phil Baroni, Dan Henderson and the excellent Denis Kang, so I see him getting a snidey decision. Whatever happens, this show promises much. Let’s hope it does not disappoint.

By the way. If you liked this article (or even if you didn't), be sure to check out the newsletter I write for, Total MMA. It's really good.

22 February 2007

BizarrOC

My Comic Book Guy Moment, vol. 1


I love The O.C., I really do. It took me a while but, after a couple of years of protestation, I succumbed in my 2006 summer of Cali-love that was spearheaded by the heady brew of Arrested Development and punk rock retro fetish. So I watched the first season on DVD, and then caught the coincidentally-scheduled T4 morning repeats of the third. I’ll save the in depth eulogy for when the show has officially finished over here, though.

Of course, my mentioning that I love The O.C. is precursor to dissing the episode I saw this week. I suppose it could be justified as Christmas insanity (it was, after all, a Yuletide-set episode), but even that is a stretch. Having not seen the second season, I will refrain from any ‘WORST. EPISODE. EVER!’ proclamations but, even as a staunch O.C. defender, I thought it was just too silly.

Background: too-perfect-to-be-true dream girl Taylor Townsend has a crush on bad-boy-with-heart Ryan Atwood. She gets him a big Christmas prezzie, and he responds by not inviting her to the family Xmas dinner (he has his reasons, but I’m not about to tell the whole story. Watch the repeat on Sunday if you’re desperate for facts). Anyway, he’s been putting Xmas lights on the roof, she is up the ladder with him and they both fall.

Exposition out of the way, they end up in hospital, unconscious yet ‘fine’. It transpires that they have been transported – together – to an alternate universe where, Quantum Leap style, they must put right something that has gone wrong. In this particular scenario, Sandy and Kirsten Cohen are divorced, and with Julie and Jimmy Cooper respectively. Our perfect pair have less than one full episode to get the Cohens back together, and also to get Seth with Summer.

See, this is a parallel universe where neither Ryan nor Taylor exists. Without Ryan being there, Seth never gets cool, never pulls Summer (in other words, this is a more realistic Orange County than the one in which they actually live), and she ends up being an airhead (which she was anyway, let’s not forget), and married to Che. Anyone following the show will know Che is someone she knows from university, so this is too bizarre to work, but the writers fudge an explanation about the circumstances that would lead to his being in Orange County and whatnot. It was not the most believable explanation I have ever heard.

Taylor does technically exist in this universe, but her mother had a boy instead of a girl. Upon seeing her giving New Taylor a dressing down about his weight, Our Taylor confronts mummy dearest about the way she is talking to Boy Taylor. Standing up to mater apparently her actual ‘mission’, she gets zapped back to the normal Orange County; Ryan is left on his own. In one big speech, he manages to get everyone together, Seth has his ‘George McFly smacks Biff Tannen’* moment when he gets in Che’s face, and everyone is happy.

If all of this wasn’t of sufficient insanity to have you questioning your own marbles consider, too, the dialogue that Seth and Sandy had while Ryan and Taylor were ‘comatose but fine’. Seth, in an on-the-nose moment of a magnitude not seen since I stopped watching pro wrestling and Days of Our Lives, suggests to his dad that – get this – perhaps Ryan and Taylor are in an alternate universe! And if that was not enough, he goes on to posit that perhaps they have a mission to accomplish, at which point they will return to the real world! Awesome. And were that not sufficiently ridiculous, Sandy – a lawyer by trade – agrees with this summation.

Is it all just a desperate (and ham fisted to the point where the writers must be wearing entire pork farms on their hands) stab to echo the excellent season opening of Sopranos last year that was set largely in Tony’s coma-dream world?

Hopefully things will return to normal after this week, because the fourth season is so dark and bleak that it actually really works. I think this is what Americans call ‘jumping the shark’ (a reference to a Happy Days episode wherein the disturbingly old-to-have-teen-friends ‘Fonz’ literally jumped a shark with his motorbike. So it really just means a dunderheaded point of no return for a programme). Here's hoping for the show to end in a blaze of nihilistic glory.



*If you don’t get this reference, do not return to the internet until you have watched Back to the Future. And its sequel. But not number three.
Lost Goes Weird(er)

My Comic Book Guy Moment, vol. 2


Anyway, if The O.C. this week jumped the shark, Lost seems to have given the shark a pair of legs, a tuxedo, and taught it to do a soft shoe routine while reciting the complete works of Shakespeare, backwards.

[Insert disclaimer here about how I love Lost, and that it is my favourite dramatic television programme ever ever ever.]

It seems almost churlish to decry an episode of Lost for being insane. After all, it started out madder than a colony of hatters who spent their teen years taking too much acid. Still, there was a twisted kind of internal logic that made tropical polar bears and deadly columns of living black smoke totally believable. This week, though, I say in my dorkiest possible tone that they have gone too far!

The flashback in this episode concerned the excellent Desmond character, and his past in what looks like London (complete with crap accents and army recruitment posters that mention the word ‘HONOR’ – seriously; researchers please). In keeping with the week’s theme of everybody being totally telepathic and charging about like Tetsuo from Akira, Desmond already knows about the island, the numbers and the hatch.

OK, I can sort of get behind that… maybe. It sounds stupid, but his recent clairvoyance has been engaging, so I’ll see where it goes from here. I suppose there is a similarity between this story arc and Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5. See, Desmond keeps getting thrown back to the time he split up with his gyal because he thought he was destined not to be with her. Regretting that, he gets the chance – Quantum Leap style once more – to literally ‘put right what once went wrong’(!). Perhaps he does hope that his next leap… will be the leap home. Anyway, he ends up pinballing between the moment of break up and being on the island. Like Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, Desmond is stuck in time!

I tell you, this really looks a lot better in hindsight than it seemed on Sunday night. I think I’ll have to download the episode and give it a re-watch. Oh how I wish I was in Charlie Brooker’s shoes, able to phone up broadcasters and get tape sent to me. Perhaps this episode is a grower after all, and is going to lead somewhere really good. So far, all we really have in terms of black marks on the episode is a shit sense of continuity and poor casting.

As if to intentionally save my argument from falling on its face, Desmond bumps into fellow islander Charlie, who is busking outside his would-be father in law’s building (I’ll mention the absolutely terrifying ubiquity of Alan Dale in every US TV show in my impending Proper Lost Post). As if Charlie busking the brain-drainingly mediocre un-song ‘Wonderwall’ wasn’t bad enough, Des grabs him by his lapels and shouts about how he recognises him from the island and the hatch and the numbers and everything. Of course, everyone’s least favourite smarmy, Evangeline Lilly-dating hobbit reacts as if he has been accosted by a madman.

And maybe Desmond is mad. But still, as bad as that little encounter was, how come Charlie has no recollection of this event? I am positive that if I was busking and some Scottish bloke ran up to me yelling about an island, hatches and numbers, seeing him later on an island with hatches and numbers might ring the tiniest of bells. Maybe? Admittedly, this theory ignores how much of an oatmeal-brained oaf Charlie is, but I feel forced to give him some credit for sentience.

Best case scenario is that Charlie does recognise him and is wondering what Desmond’s (PORK PIE) game is. Desmond turns into a frothing Celtic Tetsuo as his psychic powers engulf him and it gets really bizarre, but with adherence to the compelling Lost internal logic. Meanwhile, Jack’s head explodes as his sceptical face-twitching reaches critical mass, and he takes that annoying old couple with him. Now I think about it, the show seems to have looked away from that pair thus far in this third season, so maybe passing conversation in a future episode will reveal that they neatly died somewhere.

Or maybe they’re just in a parallel universe, where everybody in the back half of the plane didn’t end up dying senselessly.

21 February 2007

Welcome (Back) to the Jungle


Apologies for interrupting the scheduled programming like this, and I know I don’t normally make news-based posts, but I am making an exception here. See, the new Guns N’ Roses song has ‘leaked’ and, being a big GNR fan, I have been listening to it. A lot.

Let me preface this by saying I am not expecting much from the new album, should it ever come out (and I must admit this is definitely a sign the album might be on its way). The Spaghetti Incident is something I would rather not have happened, and even the Use Your Illusions albums were pretty patchy (the classics ‘Civil War’ and ‘You Could be Mine’ aside). Oh yeah, I say I am a big fan of the band based almost entirely around the first album and the personalities of the band.

For the last couple of years, I have been of the opinion that the making of impending Axl Rose-a-thon Chinese Democracy is pretty much the greatest rock and roll story of the last decade – as long as it never came out. I will try to find a link to the story, but the epic tale of producers and band members getting fired left, right and centre, along with the increasing despotism of Rose, is wonderfully compelling. It is just such a pants-explodingly strong story that, no matter how good the album may be, the release could not avoid being an anti-climax.

So for the longest time it seemed as though my wish would come true, and the record would never see the light of day. However, with some tangible taste of the impending record, I feel it pertinent to take a look at what it means to be Axl Rose releasing music in 2007. The track in question is named ‘Better’ and, seeing as it is ‘just’ a song, with no news of lead singles or anything, it will be treated as ‘just a song’.

The opening sequence of the tune is actually very heartening; I was concerned it was a fake for a while, given the falsetto, harmonics & beats intro. Soon, though, that high-register, abrasive voice comes to the fore and it is unmistakeably Rose (or at least an inordinately proficient impersonator). The vocal melody of the verse is quality, and throughsilver is happy. There is just one thing awry at this stage.

The rhythm guitar in the verse is rather, and I will endeavour to put this politely, ‘traditional’. A simple sequence (not even really a riff, though it is in the technical sense that it is a repeating musical motif. It just doesn’t hang together like a good riff does), it is pedestrian staccato-groove stuff from another era. And that is what concerns me about the song as a whole. The lyrical content seems to concern his being wronged, maybe by people in the industry or something. The hook of ‘no-one ever told me when I was alone / they just thought I’d know better’ suggests a personal relationship, so we’ll go with that.

See, the single story thread through the history of this albums making was that of Rose’s desire to sound modern. This was a big problem considering it has taken over a decade to make. Every couple of years in the nineteen nineties the ‘cool’ sounds changed. Perhaps it is the current air of musical stagnation that imbued him with the confidence to release now? But this is just not modern.

Amusingly enough, despite Rose’s mission to sound modern, this is something that could have been released a decade ago. In fact, it is very reminiscent, in both guitar and vocals, of when then-erstwhile (and of course, current once again) Iron Maiden singer Bruce Dickinson decided to ‘go Grunge’ in 1996. He enlisted Jack Endino to produce, and protested his new project Skunkworks was a real band, and not just him and a bunch of session musicians. It wasn’t great (but it was miles better than the Maiden album of the time, the woeful The X Factor, with ex-Wolfsbane singer Blaze Bayley on vocals), but had a few really good tracks, and the next year he hooked up with ex-Maiden axeman Adrian Smith and got back to the heavy metal.

So it’s just a bit of a concern that this is so not ‘now’. As a song, it is high quality. I was disappointed on the first listen but [checks his Audioscrobbler] after some seven listens, I can report the tune is a definite grower. The trad riff gets more effective the longer it goes; that whole joy of repetition thing. The vocals are very strong, but I should hope so too, after he spent trillions of man-hours in the studio. Yeah, the song is very polished. The backing vocals are really good, the build is gradual and we get a very satisfying finish as the layered mix gives way to a mellow echo of the intro.

‘Better’ is not great, nor is it bad. I sincerely hope it is far from the best song on Chinese Democracy, or we’re in trouble. Commercially, I was going to say I have my doubts, but then I remember the biggest band in the world is Red Hot Chili Peppers and this is better than any single they have released since the turn of the century. It’s also better than any Velvet Revolver (the ex-Guns with perennial also-ran Scott Weiland on vocals) song I have heard. That, combined with the mythology of Chinese Democracy would lead me to believe it won’t be such a bust, but they are never going to make their money back on this particular investment.

2005 Countdown will resume when I have written up a particularly awkward album…
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