Sunday, December 25, 2011
Few things in combat sports can capture an audience like two giants battling inside the Octagon. At UFC 141 MMA fans will be treated to such a matchup between former champion Brock Lesnar and current Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem. On fight night the two will combine for probably over 575 pounds inside the Octagon. While few men in this world can make Brock Lesnar seem small, standing side by side, Alistair Overrem achieves just that. But will that translate into victory?
Alistair "Demolition Man" Overeem is riding a wave of success and hype, having not lost since 2007 covering an 11 fight unbeaten streak. While he is relatively unknown to UFC fans, just one look at his massive physique lets them know he is not a fighter to be taken lightly. Brock Lesnar, on the other hand, comes in on the heels of a rough loss against former heavyweight king, Cain Velasquez, in which his massive holes in his stand up were soundly exposed. Yet he remains a top tier force in the heavyweight division and more importantly in the UFC's marketing plan. So Dana White's best idea for Lesnar's return to the Octagon is to pit him against one of the world's elite strikers, MMA or otherwise. At stake for Brock Lesnar is not only a title shot but more importantly his ability to prove he can bang and remain with the elite in the UFC.
Through his rise in the heavyweight ranks, I have not been a believer in Alistair Overeem. In his 11 fight streak the best fighter he beat was Fabricio Werdum whom he defeated by decision mainly because Fabricio was unable to bring Overeem to the mat. Werdum is a ground specialist but not a takedown artist. All other fighters during the streak were either over the hill or unproven and in way over their heads. The Alistair Overeem I recall is the one that went 2-5 immediately before the streak began and being KOd or TKOd by the likes of Kharitonov, Rua, Arona and Nogueira. I remember the one that gasses in fights and has difficulty with adversity. The one who can not stop a takedown. He has not fought a single wrestler during his winning streak.
On paper, most see Brock Lesnar at a disadvantage. He himself has not reacted well to being hit in the face and now he faces one of the purest strikers in MMA? I agree with Lesnar's recent comments that he can take a punch, there are no problems with his chin. He just doesn't like being hit in the face and doesn't react like a we expect him to. While Overeem will surely land punches, Lesnar will surely get a clinch or a single or double and take the fight to the ground and erase the striking advantage. He did so against Frank Mir and Randy Couture and even Cain Velasquez. But Velasquez was able to get back to his feet and re-establish his striking advantage. I don't see Alistair Overeem doing that. There is something daunting in having a 285lb monster on top of you who moves like a welterweight and that is definitely something the Demolition Man has never faced before. Even if Overeem escapes to the later rounds, Lesnar's cardio has never been questioned especially when he dominates. Unless he is able to land a fight ending strike, I see Alistair Overeem slowly folding under the force that is Brock Lesnar en route to a third round TKO victory for Brock and a return trip to a title tilt against Junior dos Santos.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Few were surprised by the outcome of Jon Jones vs. Lyoto Machida. Although Machida going to sleep and thrown down like a rag doll was probably not a popular prediction I didn't see many predicting Machida to pull any sort of upset. The fight also proved more entertaining than most thought. Lyoto Machida came out disciplined with an exceptional game plan of constant movement and darting strikes which for the first round confused the young champ Jones. But Jones' skill and physical attributes are just too much for most light heavyweights. What we did see was Jones face some adversity and rise above. On my scorecard, Machida won the first round managing to actually land solid strikes on Jones. Between rounds, Jon Jones seemed confused and a bit worried but like any true competitor came out in round two and turned the tide. What future opponent's need to learn from this bout is that it is possible to win a distance fight against the long Jon Jones, but you better be ready for a clinch and takedown sometime during the fight. Machida was not. By no means is this the "blueprint" to defeat Jones but it is worth it to apply some of these tactics in future game planning. Who can repeat these tactics in the division? The only name that comes to mind is Shogun but we've all seen how that ended. Dan Henderson? He has the ability to rush Jones once, maybe twice but lacks the fluid movement Lyoto Machida displayed. Henderson would have to utilize a rush and clinch tactic and still seems a Jon Jones strong suit. Rashad Evans? Doubtful. He would definitely try to out-wrestle Jones and that would we be a mistake. Phil Davis? Way too inexperienced and one dimensional still. Lil' Nog? Same. Anderson Silva?
He certainly has the skill, movement and fluidity to attack in similar fashion but can he stop a Jon Jones take down? I'd love to see him try. As for Machida, he looked great for one round and showed he still belongs in the UFC but it will be a while before he receives another title shot. I'd like to see him in there against a rising Stephan Bonnar or Stanislav Nedkov so we can see what Nedkov is made of.
Much of the talk of UFC 140 is about the damage caused by Frank Mir on Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's arm. Nogueira is and always be a legend in the sport of MMA. His accomplishments are on another level of his peers. With that said he faced a Frank Mir that to the surprise of everyone was one step ahead on the ground at UFC 140. The focus and seamless grappling displayed by Mir was a thing of beauty even if the outcome made some squirm. I'm not sure who, if anyone, expected Rodrigo Nogueira to tap. Frank Mir has been criticized for his perceived lack of remorse at Nogueira's injuries and I feel unjustly. He did his job and Nogueira did his and the result was maybe a career ending injury for Minotauro. Does this place as next in line for a title shot? Because of lack of talent pool, yes. In reality he still displayed some of his drawbacks. Willingness to stay on the feet against superior strikers and more importantly, getting stunned quickly. Can he withstand Junior Dos Santos' hands? No. Would another rematch with Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin end differently if they caught him again. No. He still an extremely talented and marketable fighter who belongs at the very top of the UFC mountain, he just can't knock the guys at the top of that mountain off. To see if he's really changed and improved, I'd like to see him face Cain Velasquez relentless pace and quick hands. Frank Mir is certainly no gatekeeper but has had small success against the very top tier UFC heavyweights.
As for Nogueira, his future is unclear. He certainly faces a very long rehabilitation at minimum and retirement at worst. He has nothing to be ashamed of in this fight or his career if it ends. Everyone gets caught. If he returns I would like to see him face middle tier talent like Pat Barry or Mike Russow to see where he is at without risking much.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Jon "Bones" Jones has seemed unstoppable in his young career. He does things in the Octagon that not only defy belief and require his athletic ability but also show Octagon intellect and imagination. From jumping over Ryan Bader to take his back to his patented spinning back fist, Jon Jones shows all the ability imaginable and he's only 24. He has yet to really even break a sweat in the Octagon. On Saturday December 10, he faces Lyoto "the Dragon" Machida who not so long ago was touted as the second coming himself. When he knocked out Rashad Evans to win the belt we were told we had entered the Machida era. Well, that era lasted one lackluster title defense and one brutal KO loss, both to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. He followed that up with another loss to Quinton Jackson before a highlight reel knockout of Randy Couture. Not that he is undeserving, but Machida is getting the title shot because Rashad Evans seemed to sprout injuries when scheduled to fight Jon Jones and no one else has built enough steam to justify a title shot. Regardless, this is an interesting fight to a point.
We have two fighters who fight on timing and distance. the Jon Jones puzzle has yet to be solved while the Machida myth was smashed by Shogun. Machida loves to dash in and out and counter his opponent. He controls the Octagon like few others and is probably the most difficult to land a solid strike against. Aside from his fights with Shogun, who showed extreme patience and discipline, the Machida style is still not an easily solved puzzle. The problem is that Jon Jones style is similar in that he uses his length to dictate how and where the fight will take place. He shows something something new and innovative each time out. He used kicks to the thigh as a jab against Rampage Jackson to keep him at the necessary distance. He is almost impossible to take down and how will Machida keep him down if he gets him on the ground? The largest obstacle Jones' opponents face is not just Jon Jones' size and reach but that he knows how to use it. Many fighters have enjoyed such freakish advanteages over opponents. Tim Sylvia, Corey Hill, Semmy Schilt, to name a few. None of them can use their attribute to the advantage Jon Jones does. So how can Machida defeat Jon Jones? On paper, there are not many ways for Lyoto Machida to succeed. But as they say, that's why they play the game. Jon jones' chin has yet to be tested. Fans have yet to see him overcome adversity. Machida has a style and physical attributes to give Jones trouble and 6 oz gloves are the great equalizer.
Unfortunately for Machida, Jon Jones has a high Octagon IQ and comes from Greg Jackson's camp. Jon Jones will be prepared. I expect Jones to take Machida down early and beat him up there like he has many other opponents. Machida has not spent much time on his back and I don't see him just standing up against Jones. Expect the elbows to rain on Machida before his father mercifully throws in the towel for a second or third round stoppage.
My fear is that with both fighters playing the distance game, neither will exchange until the time is right and we'll have ourselves another Severn/Shamrock. With Jackson camp's tendency to play it safe this is a possibility, but not likely. Jon Jones has become more vocal and confident of late and he better come in ready to back all that up because one straight left from Machida can bring his ego down real quick.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
At UFC 139 MMA fan's get a fight many hoped had occurred five or six years ago. Dan Henderson against Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. There was a time in the days of Pride that this match-up would have been the talk of the entire MMA world. Even now fans are still getting two of the best they've ever seen clash while still competing at relatively high levels. Both have been knocked down a bit but anyone who counts either of these men is making a huge mistake.
Dan Henderson brings with him one of the best resumes in MMA. He has fought a who's who of opponents and vanquished most. Of his eight losses, three were submissions to Anderson Silva and one to each of the Nogueira brothers. The rest are decisions and he has never been knocked out. The put to sleep the incomparable Fedor Emelianenko in under one round. He has also knocked out Wanderlai Silva, Bisping, Cavalcante, Sobral, Bustamante and Renzo Gracie. More importantly, Dan Henderson brings with him what has now become the blueprint for success in MMA. He is really, really good at one thing and can carry his own at everything else. The one thing he is really good at is wrestling and clinch work and has the ability to control how and where the match will take place. It doesn't hurt that he probably has the hardest right hand in the business and can turn out the lights with one shot and has a chin that has taken shots from the best and come out grinning. Dan Henderson, even at 41, is not easy fight for anyone.
On the other side of the Octagon is the one time 'wunderkind' of Pride, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. Until his shocking loss to Forrest Griffin upon his arrival in the UFC, Shogun was thought of as the future of MMA, the Jon Jones of his time.He held KO victories over current heavyweight phenom Alistair Overeem, Quentin Jackson, and Ricardo Arona. But Shogun is only 4-3 in his UFC tenure although three of those matches were for the championship belt of which he only won once. There is no shame in losing to Jon Jones at the moment. No one has solved that puzzle yet. But since his knee surgeries, Mauricio Rua has not been the same young fighter we first saw in Pride. That does not mean he does not have the skill set to defeat Dan Henderson. He still very dynamic on the fit, with an array of strikes and kicks that few can match. Shogun is very heavy handed and with an iron chin equal to or greater than Henderson's. The beating he took at the hands of Jon Jones without ever losing consciousness is a testament to that. The knock on Mauricio since his UFC debut has been lack of stamina. He fades in fights. I disagree to a point. Has he faded in fights? Absolutley. But I find it difficult to believe that an athlete of his caliber with his training regimen lacks stamina. In the Jon Jones fight, few take into account the damage the body strikes Jones landed early that fight caused. He certainly did not fade in his first bout against Lyoto Machida. In that fight he was very controlled and paced, strikingly different from his natural style. Which is why I feel he tires in fights. He starts bout at a frenetic pace with an array of high level kicks, not your basic low kicks. I don't feel he trains to maintain that pace and wears himself out quickly.
Taking all this into account, I feel Dan Henderson can take a split decision victory over Mauricio Rua. There'll be fireworks early on, with maybe Dan Henderson taking a stumble. But he will fall back on his Greco-Roman base and control the match en route to a tight decision victory.
The rest of the card:
Brian Bowles finishes Urijah Faber
Wanderlai Silva posterizes Cung Le
Martin Kampmann decisions Rick Story
Kyle Kingsbury wears down Stephan Bonnar
Ryan Bader earns a split decision against Jason Brilz
Chris Weidman finishes Tom Lawlor
Miguel Torres KOs Nick Pace
Rafael dos Anjos outgrapples Gleison Tibau
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Much has been made of Cain Velazquez' decision to stand against Junior dos Santos. He should have gone for the takedown, pushed him against the fence, dirty boxed, etc. It's easy to judge in hindsight. I don't know what the strategy was for Cain Velazquez. He has stated he did not follow the gameplan. Dana White was livid after the fight, stating that dos Santos tires late in fights. No one knows what would have happened if Junior dos Santos had not landed so early in the fight. What we do know is this : 1)dos Santos has and will have the heaviest, most talented hands in the Heavyweight division and anyone is a fool to intentionally stand against him. 2)Many fans, analysts and especially Cain himself had been enamored with his progress in stand up especially with the results against Brock Lesnar. But to believe that your stand up after a few years (or months) of training can be as good as someone's who has trained his entire life is ridiculous. If CroCop trained the rest of his life in wrestling, he could never out-wrestle someone like Velazquez or Lesnar. He may get the upper hand briefly, but ultimately he will lose a wrestling battle. It is very similar to Gray Maynard's success against Frankie Edgar. Gray hurt him badly twice, but in the end superior stand up, footwork and all-around MMA won the fight for Frankie Edgar. So while he is criticized by choosing to stand, let's remember all the praise he received for his 'beautiful' combinations and progress in his fights against Big Nog and Lesnar. 3)Regardless if Cain had chosen to go for a take down or the clinch, every round would start on the feet and dos Santos has shown against other grapplers to have the ability to stay on his feet or get to his feet quickly. I was wrong in my prediction that Cain Velazquez would have been able to ground and wear out Junior dos Santos. Does that make Cain a chump and Junior dos Santos unbeatable? Absolutely not. Everyone has holes, not everyone allows those to be exposed. Cain had been rocked before, does he have a glass chin? We'll find out in his next outing against a striker. Can Junior dos Santos keep every fight standing long enough to wear out or KO his opponent? So far the answer is a resounding yes. Whether it's Brock Lesnar or Alistair Overeem to get the next crack at the champ, both will need to sharpen every aspect of their game to stand a chance against 'Cigano.'
The biggest and best surprise of the historic night was "Smooth" Ben Henderson. Not only did he dominate Clay Guida, he made the fight exciting and went to win every minute of the fight. For anyone who believes the WEC lightweights did not belong in the UFC, take a look at Henderson's fights. He is exciting, athletic, inventive, dynamic and most of all lays it on the line every time. His scheduled match against Frankie Edgar has fight of the decade written all over it. For the first time in a while the champ will face someone with the same mobility, skill set and cardio as he does. He will not have an easy upper hand in the later rounds as he has become accustomed. We are all in for a special night when Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson meet in the Octagon.
I want to start by saying I became a Manny Pacquiao fan when he evolved his boxing skills after losing to Erik Morales. So I am not a Manny Pacquiao hater. But last night when Pac Man met Juan Manuel Marquez for the third time, the worst of boxing rose to the forefront once more.
An old adage in boxing is styles make fights. After 36 rounds it is obvious that Juan Manuel Marquez has the style that will always give trouble to Manny Pacquiao. Through all his exploits, Pac Man has never distanced himself from Marquez. Last nite, Juan Manuel showed he has the tools to beat Manny Pacquiao. The problem for Marquez was that judges are human and feelings and opinion are involved in judging. The fight was very close, no one can deny that. I felt Juan Manuel Marquez won handily and when I hear the discussions on ESPN and other sports outlets on why Pacquaio was handed the victory I'm reminded why I've rarely watched boxing over the last few years and why I will never watch another boxing match again.
Watching the telecast, Harold Lederman kept calling Pac Man the aggressor and that's why he was giving him the rounds. His reasoning was that Manny was going forward. Using this logic, Floyd Mayweather should rarely win any round, as well Roy Jones Jr. in his prime,and Pernell Whitaker and any other defensive counter fighter. As even Lederman stated, that is the same logic that led him to award the fight to Sugar Leanard against Marvin Hagler. I have always disagreed with this. Assuming that moving forward equals aggression fails to take into account strategy and ring control. If Marquez' gameplan was to lure Manny Pacquiao in and counter with solid strikes and that's exactly how the fight played out, didn't he control when and where the fight took place? Didn't he have the "ring generalship" Lederman awarded to Pacquiao? Analysts point to CompuBox numbers that show Pacquiao landed a few more punches than Marquez and more power punches. But the judges did not have the ability to count punches, they watched it live and live Marquez landed better combinations and slipped and feinted Manny throughout the fight.
Then analysts say that Marquez' corner incorrectly told him he was winning and he let the foot off the gas. But, according to their CompuBox, Marquez threw the most punches of the fight in round 9 and averaged above 30 in every other round. He never let up, he continued his game plan. He did the same things that led him to win rounds throughout the fight but suddenly it wasn't enough. And what if we hadn't heard Marquez' corner tell him he was winning, what excuse would we have? And to be clear, Marquez' corner did not tell him to let up. they told him "don't get caught", "don't stand there".
My problem with this whole mess is that in the end, boxing is a popularity contest. Mayweather can be a defensive fighter and be brilliant, while others do the same and they lack ring leadership. A boxer can win a round, a fight, by throwing more punches regardless of impact or accuracy. You can win by trying as long as people like you because if Marquez had thrown and missed as much as Manny Pacquiao did, the spin would have been that Manny displayed excellent defense, not that Marquez was the aggressor. Much the same way Sugar Ray Leonard can be awarded a victory over Marvin Hagler by running around in the ring but when Pernell Whitaker used the exact same style against Oscar De La Hoya, Oscar won. Everyone loves Leonard and de La Hoya, no one likes Whitaker and Hagler. It was the same last night. Manny Pacquiao is everyone's darling and no matter what he did, he would have done enough to win. Marquez' only shot was for a knockout. Analysts say well Manny's face was not beaten, you have to take a title not just win it, Manny has superior skills. It all sounds good but does not remove the fact that Juan Manuel Marquez used superior boxing skills, not God given talent, to outbox and defeat Manny Pacquiao? So if this is what boxing, as a whole, wants to display on one of its largest stages, then they no longer can count on me as a fan or supporter of any kind. As a whole they are unwilling to make the big fights happen and when they do have nice matchups, they are a debacle. Mayweather-Ortiz, Hopkins-Dawson. Boxing has nothing to offer for the casual fan or the hardcore one when upper echelon fighters must defeat opponents in the ring, the judges table, the CompuBox counters and popular opinion just to win a round much less a championship belt. If I want to watch popularity contests I'll just watch American Idol.