Thursday, 8 April 2010

March: Floating bones, the Amish and James Cagney MMA pioneer circa 1946

March was a welcome return to some hectic MMA scheduling. The calender was jam packed with various promotions holding a number of mouth-watering match-ups. My Sky Plus box had a very busy month and I was having to delete my back-log of pre-recorded 'House' episodes to cope with the demand.

If events were not to be found on T.V then I was on the internet  at work covertly hunting down highlights and fight reports and then hiding them in downsized windows. It was glorious, a very welcome and healthy dose of fistic medicine.

I have to say I have grown to love the UFC Primetime specials. The BJ Penn – GSP one was great, but they really stepped it up for the Hardy-GSP fight. You can call them 'cheesy' or 'contrived' but I think they are awesome. The guy that does the voice-overs is gold “In a quiet corner of the snowy Montreal inner-city hides the Tri-Star gym, home to UFC welter-weight champion...”. It is pure theatre and very entertaining.

I loved the bit in part one when Dan Hardy was packing his bags to leave for America. As he got to the elevator the camera switched to a straight on shot and he took off his hood, revealing the trademark Mohawk and then smirked. It is classic Dan Hardy and a truly masterful dramatic climax.

I think these Primetime shows play into the childhood nostalgia and excitement of the Karate Kid and Rocky films. Who doesn't love a good training montage? The build up, the alternative training methods of each camp, the war of words. It just draws you in and gets you pumped. I have to say I think scripting the character of Matt Serra into the drama was plot-line genius. They way they built it up was priceless. Dan Hardy on the phone to an unknown trainer with 'inside information' on GSP. I know it was absolutely ridiculous, but I indulged it.  It was completely unnecessary training wise for Hardy, but it made for  great viewing.

March was the backdrop to some particularly viscous beat-downs. This was no better  demonstarted than in the one handed to Brandon Vera by Jon Jones at UFC on Versus. It is liking watching Tekken when he fights. He utilized those marvel comic-esque elbows to devastating effect. His elbow-centric ground and pound is one of the very few instances in MMA where I actually feel the desire to look away. He broke Vera's face! Vera is now scheduled to undergo facial surgery to correct a dislocated cheekbone. His manager Matt Stansell  expanded -

 “It broke his cheekbone in three places and it’s sort of floating right now. (The bone) is kind of laying on the muscle of the right eye, which is preventing Brandon from looking to his right, and it’s pushing his eyeball forward.”

It's sort of floating?....So it could turn up in his arm-pit?

Last month I mentioned the cut  received by Anthony Perosh at UFC 110 at the hands  of Mirko Cro Cop. One of my readers suggested I was exaggerating by metaphorically referring to it as being 'the size of the Grand Canyon'. Upon seeing the cut inflicted by Joseph Benavidez on Miguel Torres at WEC 47  I am inclined to agree that my assessment of Perosh's cut was a little overboard. Torres cut made Peroshs look like a slight crack in the pavement. Torres required 20 stitches. The dude looks like he just stepped out of a scene from the Texas Chainsaw massacre.

Continuing along the line of beat-downs and gore, Palhares was banned for 90 days for his particularly nasty heel hook on  Tomasz Drwal We were given a plethora of replays in real time and slo-mo to conclude what we already knew...he held on way too long. I understand the argument that he wanted to make sure the referee had seen the tap, examples abound of how prematurely releasing a submission can hurt a fighter’s chances.

Palhares trainer  Bustamante was on the receiving end of a missed 'tap' in his bout with Matt Lindland in 2002 . Lindland appeared to tap to an armbar but told referee “Big” John McCarthy that he didn’t and got a restart. Is that justification enough for the extra-time Palhares seemed to hold on for, even after the referee had clearly observed the submission? Another factor is the role of adrenaline in a fight. Is the 'power' of adrenaline an adequate excuse for effectively  sending a fellow pro to the operating table?

It reminded me of the Razak Al-Hussan versuses Steve CantwelI at UFC Fight Night 16. If you did not see the fight, Cantwell basically bent Al-Hussan’s arm in a very obscene and unnatural direction. The referee had to stop the match because Al-Hussan had not tapped and his arm was basically hanging off. Cantwell then proceeded to celebrate by shouting down the T.V camera “I always wanted to do that”. 

This is different from the Palhares incident. Technically Cantwell did nothing wrong, he was just following the submission to it's inevitable conclusion. I think what I am trying to highlight is the mind-set of fighters in relation to injuring each other and the sports growth. To be fair in the heat of the moment  we can all say and do stupid things (Brock Lesnar...anyone?) and I think Cantwell later apologised for his comments as did Palhares for his actions. However, the reality is that holding onto that submission and public comments like Cantwells do nothing to push the sport forward in terms of challenging the wider public's mis-conceptions.

You just have to mention 'cage-fighting' (most people do not recognise the term MMA) to an everyday person and they instantly grimace, followed by a predictable tirade of comments that clearly demonstrate they have no idea about the rules (they don't think there are any) or culture. I saw an interesting discussion on this on the CageWarriors forum after an article on MMA in The Guardian stirred up a lot of reaction from the readers .

Maybe MMA is just not for the masses and we need to accept that. The Ultimate Fighting Championship has recently been banned from German TV because in part to 'strikes to a downed opponent'. Are the rule changes and sensitivities within the sport to brutal fights and sensationalist comments (Frank Mir *cough*) examples of a violent combat sport that is being domesticated and tamed in order for a maximised business opportunity? Would the 'real fans' want  knees to a downed opponent reinstated, as well as 12 to 6 elbows, at the expense of worldwide recognition of the sport?  Maybe this sport is just not for everyone?

Let's be honest Hardy survived against GSP at UFC 111. When are fighters (and fans) going to stop treating a five-round survival with GSP as some kind of moral victory? Sure, Hardy showed guts and determination, but he did not seize the opportunity. For a minute let's stop criticising the champion. He has a belt and a career to protect, he is not a pop-star who's primary job is to entertain us. He is an athlete who's primary concern is to win.

Hardy as the challenger was the one with nothing to lose, yet when given the rare opportunity to throw his hands he seemed cautious and hesitant.  Did he just want the notoriety of survival? I think Hardy will go away train aspects of his game and return a more formidable challenger . Lets just hope he comes back and fights like he has got nothing to lose and everything to gain.

 I really enjoyed Pellegrino vs. Camoes at UC 111. It was great to see some world class grappling in the octagon, carrying on from where Sotiropoulos left off at UFC 111. Camoes had a few submission attempts in the first round, threatening with a standing rear-naked choke, a triangle and an omoplate, all which Pellegrino defended well. It was BJJ 101. However, Kurt Pellegrino earned a $65,000 “Submission of the Night” bonus after he stopped his fellow Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt with a second-round rear-naked choke.

“I want to beat you at everything I can beat you in”  Frank Mir

Vintage school-yard Mir. Does that sentence even make sense?

However, MMA is one contest Mir cannot beat Carwin in. The 6-foot-5, 265-pound Coloradan picked up a $65,000 bonus for  “Knockout of the Night” after he put on hold  Mir's psychotic march towards Brock Lesnarr with short powerful uppercuts against the cage at 3:48 into the first round at UFC 111. Carwin is legitimate....a scary legitimate monster. The Carwin vs Lesnar ring showdown didn’t quite have the sparks Dana White was probably hoping for. Lesnar uttered some lame manufactured trash talk about Carwins belt being 'make-believe' that he probably rehearsed in the car mirror on the way to the venue.

I was gutted about the Alves – Fitch fight. I was looking forward to seeing how Alves had evolved. Fitch instead administered one of his trademark shut-outs. He was conservative and consistent. A bit like the Amish. Actually Jon Fitch looked like an Amish man in the octagon....no?

It will be interesting to find out how the whole AKA gyms bro-mances will play out. Will these guys eventually fight each other? White recently suggested that Fitch should fight Koscheck next. When Fitch was asked if he was open to fighting his team mate for the No. 1 spot, he quickly said no. Dana White quipped back "I guess he doesn't want the title shot that badly”. It will be interesting to see how the whole welterweight  division plays out this year. Particularly if BJ moves up into the mix.

Clayton McKinney from TUF 11 did not seem to have the same problem when he fought his friend to get into the TUF house. He spread his nose across his face. The first episode was good in terms of fights, the middleweight division could definitely do with a burst of new life. Not sure there were any potential world beaters in the mix.

So things I liked last month...

-         Kenny Florians jab
-         Junior Dos Santos knockout
-         These T-Shirts....Tom Lawlor and Jens Pulver

_    Grappling in the octagon

-         UFC Primetime

-         Big Country's self-deprecation

-         And this.....James Cagney doing MMA in 1945. Please watch right to the end for his sloppy arm-bar and repeated jabs to the throat


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Deep cuts, death threats and getting naked.

Last month really set the scene for some serious trash talking . The amateur dramatics of January seemed to have spilt over into February, whipping the world of pro-mma into a state pantomime. A whole number of sub-plots and storylines with their various villains, heroes and jesters cropped up to provide us the fans with both entertainment and embarrassment in equal measure. The Celebrity merry-go-round continued to turn. Will Dana White take the mainstream bait of former MLB player Jose Canseco's relentless self-promotion? If he does it sends out a message to the world that all it takes to be a pro MMA fighter is a twitter account, the gift of the gab and some semblance of fading athleticism.  At least Kimbo had a whole backlog of YouTube beat downs to put forward as a reliable testament to his potential and...eh....skills.

It certainly looks like Strikeforce are entertaining the idea, as a picture of Canseco eating dinner with Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker was circulated on the internet. Maybe this is what MMA needs in order to help it adjust and become part of the mainstreams collective consciousness. A few cheap celebrity lays? These instances (Toney, Canseco, DMX etc etc) feel like MMA is acting like a desperate actress who is sleeping with directors in order to get a part in a blockbuster. Just believe in your sport and the appeal of your dedicated pro's and the exposure and growth will follow.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

The Lowdown: January 2010

By the end of 2009 MMA was practically on the operating table bleeding out. It seemed every major MMA promotion was being hit with injuries and ailments with fight cards all over the world receiving CPR and emergency rescue surgery. This was no better evidenced than at the ‘cursed’ UFC 108, which had over 8 fighters sidelined due to injury. The UFC’s first show of 2010 originally had some mouth watering match-ups, Silva-Belfort, Carwin-Lesnar etc. Whilst the eventual fight card was not quite as blistering as the one initially proposed it was good to see the UFC still manage to put together a somewhat competitive event, more on that later.

2010 started with a bang or a ‘snap’ shall we say. On New Years Eve Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki seized the arm of Sengoku champion Mizuto Hirota with an esoteric hammerlock. He broke it and then followed it up with a middle finger to his opponent, his corner and the audience… oh the teenage angst of it all. I think this was Aoki’s way of saying to America ‘I’m a marketable badass, come get me”. Any publicity is good publicity as they say. It seems to have worked as Strikeforce are courting his signature and it looks likely we will be seeing him fight in the U.S this year.

Speaking of middle fingers we found out this month that Brock Lesnar is officially back. As frank and confrontational as ever, he cussed Canada’s healthcare system where he was initially treated, as being like a ‘Third world country’. He then proceeded to call Frank Mir a ‘stalker’. "I don't think I beat him as bad as I could," said Lesnar. "For me to get my hands on that stalker again ... Frank Mir has made it a mission of his life [to get a rematch]. It's been a while since I've had a stalker but we'll take care of that." (ESPN Radio 1100) …brilliant.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Way: Fighting and spirituality

We are all too familiar with the timeless image of the wise martial arts master. He seems to be completely at peace with himself, his foes and the world. Nothing can surprise, overwhelm or intimidate him. Pain is merely a state of mind and the only person who can truly defeat him, is himself. This is the picture we conjure up when we when we think of what a ‘spiritual’ warrior looks like (being of south-east Asian origin and having a long moustache helps too). It seems that in relation to fighting, this kind of thinking or outlook is now confined to the pages of ancient myths or the films of Ang Lee. However, the dimension of the spiritual has always been deeply woven into the fabric of the martial arts. It might be said that a martial artist who does not acknowledge the spiritual aspect of fighting is not truly a martial artist. Budō is the Japanese term used to describe the martial arts. If we break down the words meaning we see that Budō is a compound of the root bu, meaning war or martial; and dō, meaning path or way. So put simply it means ‘the way of war’. The concept of following a ‘way’ is not about adhering rigidly to a set of rules and techniques, but is instead about becoming a disciple of an art, allowing it to inform you in body, mind and spirit. This means that the martial art permeates into our lifestyles. In influences our mind-set, how we treat others and how we make our decisions and choices.

MMA in many ways has moved away from the ritualism and ceremony of the traditional martial arts. As we have ‘mixed’ the martial arts into a fast growing sport, we seem to have strained out the spiritual aspect of what it means to be a fighter. The underlying sentiment is that all that spiritual ‘mumbo-jumbo’ is just for people that like to make shapes in the air and breathe a lot.

Internet forums, Guy Ritchie, Street fights, Carlson Gracie: Simon Hayes, BJJ Black Belt

The sound of a raw powerful car engine shakes the frail plaster walls of the Carlson Gracie Boiler Room gym in West London. Someone changing into a crisp white gi casually says "Oh that'll be Simon". When you first meet Simon Hayes you cannot help but see the corresponding metaphor to his personality. His presence in a room is instantly felt, either by a friendly “OOOOSSS!” or a barked command from the dressing room at some fighter who is not giving a hundred percent out on the mats. Simply put, Simon is a man’s man. Physically he is of average height with a strong compact frame and a face that tells a hundred stories. Friendly but fierce, poetic but pugnacious, once you peer beneath his rough exterior you find he is a man littered with paradoxes. As you speak to him you realise why he is so highly regarded by his contemporaries. He bursts with energy and enthusiasm and it’s contagious. He had me wanting to turn off the tape, get changed and head for the mats as soon as we began talking. What is obvious from the outset, however, is that Simon is a man on a journey, a journey of self-improvement and discovery. This is characterised by a deep desire to grab hold of all life has to offer him, complimented by the ability to respond to failure and success with equal measure. I wanted to find out how his journey into martial arts began. What had driven a young boy from South West London to become a black belt in two martial arts, a brown belt in another, win the European BJJ Championships, compete in amateur MMA and pioneer one of the most successful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teams in the U.K?

The Submission: A dying art?

If you are a keen follower of the UFC you may have noticed in the last few main events the lack of fights won by submission. The statistical truth is actually more startling. In the last four fight cards, only one fight was finished by submission (Alan Belcher, UFC 93). Granted the UFC is not the final word on the state of the ever evolving world of MMA, but as the bastion of professional MMA worldwide is there a cause for concern? Or is this merely just one of those passing oddities and business will return to usual in the upcoming events? How would MMA suffer from a decline in the art of the submission? These are important questions to ask, particularly as the sport continues to find its feet in the mainstream market. Perhaps the art of submission is suffering from the lure of “Fight of the Night‟ bonuses and an emphasis placed upon fighters to “stand and bang‟. This appeals to a wider and less MMA savvy audience and quickly raises a fighter’s profile and fan base. Referees also seem somewhat quicker these days to make fighters break the clinch or stand up due to “inactivity‟, responding perhaps to the booing from a particular demographic of spectators, or pressure from the executives upstairs to keep it “entertaining”?

A layman's journey into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Part 10... the final chapter

Fade to blue...

On the tube ride to training the other day I slipped into a daydream. I imagined myself walking to my gym on a typical cold, dark, damp winter evening. As I continue to walk I become aware of some sinister movement in the shadows being cast on the pavement by the street lights. All of a sudden I am surrounded by a band of street thugs who viciously set upon me. I fight hard, taking a few of them out, but eventually I am overpowered and left beaten and robbed in the desolate street (I agree it is strange I get beaten up in a daydream of my own making, I am not sure what this says about my self-esteem).