Posts Tagged ‘UFC news’

Chael Sonnen: Bad guy or great promoter?

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Dana White recently made a bold statement about UFC middleweight contender and wrestling dynamo Chael Sonnen. White claimed he’s “never seen anyone who can talk like this guy can since Muhammad Ali. Seriously. Since Muhammad Ali – the stuff that just comes right off the top of his head, and is hilarious. And you don’t know what’s real and what’s not real.”

I don’t want to join the Sonnen/Ali debate at the moment. Instead, I’d like to latch on to the end of White’s comment. We don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. That’s what interests me so much about Chael Sonnen. As much as he’s developed a villain persona – it’s hard not to when you’re busted for banned substances and money laundering – I wonder how much of his brash personality is the real Chael.

In fact, I’d go as far as staking a claim that Sonnen is not the bad boy he builds himself up to be and is instead simply one of the sport’s hardest-working promoters. It’s true that he says utterly shocking things – about the Nogueira brothers and the nation of Brazil, for example. And he’s made his share of bizarre and often disrespectful talk-show appearances. But consider these pieces of evidence that it may be an act:

1.  He never trash talks about his friends. Look at Brian Stann and Mark Munoz, Sonnen’s most recent conquest and his upcoming opponent. Sonnen has personal relationships with both and made a point of not only saying nothing bad about them, but singing their praises (in Stann’s case).

2. He showed a nice- guy side at UFC 136 with an 11-year-old boy. The boy’s father published a heartfelt defense of Sonnen, chronicling how Sonnen took his son behind the scenes of an event, introduced him to fighters, signed autographs, posed for photos and took him to the section where the fighters sit as spectators. The story is actually backed up with video evidence (in a blog in which Sonnen is inadvertently seen and heard with the boy in the background). What’s most interesting about it is that the UFC made no attempt to publicize it, almost as if it didn’t want news of Sonnen being benevolent to get out and tarnish his villainous image.

3. He has reportedly turned down the latest opportunity to coach The Ultimate Fighter. Why would Sonnen, the mouth of all mouths, refuse the ultimate chance to have the spotlight to himself? My theory: because he’s actually a nice guy. He’d be exposed as a good coach and be seen genuinely helping fighters.

The evidence is circumstantial at best – but I believe Sonnen is a normal guy behind the scenes who simply plays the bad guy, just as a WWE wrestler does. If he was truly a villain, we wouldn’t find contradictory examples of him being a nice guy. I wouldn’t even be surprised if Dana White and the UFC were in on it.

Whether he’s for real or not – I say keep up the good work, Chael. At least in MMA, there isn’t a better mouth today.

The Return of Cris ‘Cyborg’ Santos

Friday, December 16th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

The casual MMA fan probably doesn’t know about the Strikeforce event happening Saturday, December 17, and for fairly good reason: regardless of what the UFC says, it’s clear Strikeforce is the “B” promotion under Zuffa now and that the talent pool is slowly being bled dry.

Diehards, though, will likely tune in to catch Gilbert Melendez defend his lightweight championship in what could be his final fight before he’s called up to the big leagues.

Me? I’m reasonably excited about Melendez. But the bout doesn’t mean much. I suspect he’ll beat Jorge Masvidal and, even if he doesn’t, he’s likely coming over to contend among the UFC’s best 155-pounders either way. Melendez versus Gray Maynard, Clay Guida, Melvin Guillard, Anthony Pettis or Jim Miller? For a right to face the winner of Frankie Edgar and Ben Henderson? Set it up, Dana and Joe.

For Saturday, I’m much more excited to see women’s champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos return to the cage after an 18-month layoff. Her bout isn’t exciting in the sense that there’s much suspense about her winning or losing, as she has proven worlds above her competition in the past. But it will be very interesting to see just how far her competition has come.

Last year,  I was actually impressed with Strikeforce for holding Santos back, not forcing the issue and handing her another cupcake opponent. Her last fight was among the most disturbing I’ve ever seen. She brutalized Jan Finney so badly that the crowd booed her for being too mean. The referee begged Finney, “Fight back, Jan.” It was an embarrassment for women’s MMA. It reminded me of the horrifically lopsided scores for Canada and USA over hapless opponents in women’s Olympic hockey; those teams outscored opponents 41-2 in the 2010 preliminary rounds. The shellackings left pundits suggesting the game go an Olympic hiatus until the competition caught up.

Saturday will tell us a lot. If Hiroko Yamanaka at least gives Cyborg a strong fight, it will help women’s MMA two-fold. First, it will tell other contenders they don’t have to be afraid to challenge Cyborg anymore. Secondly – though this is a highly under-the- radar notion – a great fight between the two women could serve as an audition for the UFC. I haven’t heard the slightest peep about women in the UFC but, hey, the Strikeforce women’s division is under the same ownership umbrella now. Maybe a strong showing would put dollar signs in Dana White’s eyes.

Unfortunately, I expect Cyborg Santos to annihilate Yamanaka. The champ weighs the same as Jose Aldo and once power-bombed 200-plus-pounder Tito Ortiz during a BJJ training session. But my fingers are crossed. If Yamanaka puts up a real fight, she’ll show us there’s hope for women’s MMA yet.

I’m certainly rooting for it. As Cyborg and Gina Carano showed us in one unforgettable round when they clashed in summer of 2009, women’s MMA can be every bit as exciting to watch as the men’s game.

Fingers crossed for Saturday.

Is Jon Jones the world’s top pound-for-pound fighter?

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

That may have been Jon Jones’ most impressive showing in the Octagon yet. This is a recording.

“Bones,” the UFC’s light heavyweight champ, was proven human for a few brief moments by challenger and Karate master Lyoto Machida last Saturday at UFC 140 in Toronto. To me, that made Jones’ performance even more staggering. He took a hard shot or two, realized he was in a fight, adjusted and proceeded to embarrass one of the world’s best fighters. He needed a single elbow to turn The Dragon’s forehead into a bloody mess. The image of him dropping the unconscious Machida to the canvas after a standing guillotine choke will be replayed for years.

After the victory, buzz among MMA pundits suggested Jones deserved to vault Georges St-Pierre in the world pound-for-pound rankings. To me, that isn’t even an interesting topic to debate anymore. GSP has fought four times in the last 36 months, winning only by decision. Jones has annihilated four opponents in the last 10 months. Three of Jones’ conquests – Machida, Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson – have been UFC champions before. None of St-Pierre’s last four opponents has.

To me, Jones is clearly the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter on Earth. The more interesting question is where he ranks relative to Anderson Silva. “The Spider” deserves the unofficial title of greatest mixed martial artist of all time, but comparing his last four fights to Jones’ last four makes the waters murky. Silva was lackluster against Demian Maia and was 110 seconds away from losing to Chael Sonnen.

Then again, Silva humiliated his last two opponents, Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami, using his Muay Thai. He’s also won 15 straight fights. If you count Jones “loss” to Matt Hamill, he’s actually walked through 16 straight opponents, but Silva still has the more impressive overall body of work.

The Spider still probably deserves No. 1 status – but we’re bordering on a 1A/1B situation here.

Will the UFC’s first FOX venture change MMA?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With the UFC’s first major network-TV event arriving this Saturday night, it’s worth revisiting the ramifications of such a venture. Does Saturday mark the dawn of a new era in mixed martial arts or is the significance overhyped? Will Velasquez vs. Dos Santos enthral millions of viewers or fall on its face?

To get sense of what Saturday means, let’s look at two factors: media exposure and fight quality.

At this point, it would be a shock if Saturday’s heavyweight title bout didn’t end up as the highest-rated free-TV MMA event ever. It may not feel like FOX has gone overboard with promotion, opting for plugs during NFL telecasts, ads sprinkled throughout primetime and the odd studio interview  But we can’t underestimate how many more eyeballs watch FOX than watch Spike TV – or pay-per-view, for that matter. Even the UFC Primetime preview show, which first aired on a lazy Sunday afternoon, drew record ratings for the UFC.

So it’s safe to say that, at least in terms of exposure, Saturday’s card is extremely significant for MMA. However, that doesn’t mean the first UFC on Fox telecast is guaranteed to explode the sport into widespread popularity.

To me, fight quality is just as important as the viewership itself. If you’re an MMA purist, you may hate it when a newbie fan gets bored by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and other forms of grappling. However, even if it’s unfair, it’s a simple truth that the ground game takes longer for a new fan to learn. A wild striking affair is more likely to first-timers over. So, for example, if Velasquez takes Dos Santos down and lays on top of him for five rounds, the result could be disastrous for the UFC. The same people who didn’t give the sport a chance before will turn off their TV believing their skepticism was validated.

The good news is that we’re fairly likely to see a great fight on Saturday. Velasquez a is world-class wrester who remains very active on the ground and Dos Santos is a world-class boxer with great hand speed and power. Both guys finish opponents more often than not. So it’s fair to expect fireworks.

However, a thrilling fight isn’t guaranteed – and neither is a widespread explosion in MMA popularity. If the stars align and we’re treated to an epic heavyweight war, the Earth might move, but the UFC is probably better off expecting incremental gains for now.

Are MMA fans ready to accept “The Nice Guy”?

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

For mixed martial arts and, more specifically, the UFC, 2011 has been very much about ushering in the mainstream. Adding two new weight classes, enveloping the WEC, buying Strikeforce and signing a huge network TV deal with FOX were all major steps toward making MMA a more widely recognized and accepted sport.

With the increased mainstream popularity, in theory, comes more concern over fighters’ images. In other major pro sports, the bad boy isn’t often the superstar, it’s usually the squeaky-clean guy. Cal Ripken, Peyton Manning pre-scandal Tiger Woods, and Sidney Crosby are the types of personalities that rule sponsorship deals and billboards.

We could only expect, then, that the UFC would work to market its own “nice guys.” In Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, it has its two flagships. However, I wonder if MMA is an exception to this rule. Are we sure the nice guy is built to be a star in the UFC?

Take The Jimmy Kimmel Show, for example. This week, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his No. 1 challenger, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, appeared as guests alongside Dr. Phil. Can you guess which fighter drew the audience’s warmth and which one was jeered?

The likeable, good-looking, talented Jones didn’t get the response as he expected. He smiled through his teeth, trying to “take the high road” and answer everything diplomatically. Meanwhile, the street-tough Rampage wasted no time tearing into Jones, insulting him every chance he got and “being real.”

The crowd laughed at everything Rampage said, so much that Jones told the audience “Come on, don’t clap for that.”

Looking at that reaction – not to mention the negative fan backlash against the “safe” St-Pierre over the last year, I wonder if the Nice Guy has a place as an MMA star.

Who are the biggest draws, the most talked about fighters? Chuck Liddell, Former pro wrestling star Brock Lesnar, Nick Diaz. Cocky, taunting Anderson Silva. Mouthy Chael Sonnen.

Maybe we simply must accept that the core of this sport is still combat and a form of violence. It’s possible that nice guys finish last in MMA. There’s something very raw and elemental about fighting and perhaps a polished, eloquent fighter just doesn’t feel right to fans.

The one major contradiction to this theory – and the man who should give us hope about Jon Jones – is Randy Couture. For now, though, Randy is the exception, not the norm.

Shawn Tompkins: Death of a Canadian MMA legend

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Hearts are heavy in Canadian MMA this week. Shawn Tompkins, the legendary Canadian kickboxer-turned MMA trainer, died suddenly of a heart attack on Sunday at age 37.

His loss is a major blow the sport we love. But nothing can bring him back now. All we can do is celebrate the man Shawn Tompkins was and what he did for mixed martial arts.

Shawn was a teacher and mentor to numerous high-profile fighters, known for his Muay Thai expertise. He taught Canadians Mark Hominick and Sam Stout; he was married to Stout’s sister, Emilie Stout. Shawn also taught Brazilian striking legends Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort.

Shawn really made a name for himself over the last several years, starting in 2007 when he took over from Bas Rutten as head coach of the Los Angeles Anacondas in the Independent Fight League. He migrated the Anacondas, plus his Team Tompkins from London, Ontario, over to Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas.

Shawn became Xtreme Couture’s head instructor. In 2009, he left there to become a team trainer at the TapouT Research and Development Training Center. Despite taking on a new job, he remained closely tied to all the fighters he trained, consistently cornering them. He was particularly thrilled when MMA finally gained Ontario sanctioning and cornered several of his fighters’ first bouts in the province.

His sudden death leaves a massive void among the fighters he mentored and most of all, with his wife. It also begs the question: did we celebrate his contribution to Canadian MMA enough while he was alive?

Canadian mixed martial arts is still in its infancy. Naturally, Georges St-Pierre put it on the map like no one else, and several other fighters have risen to prominence since. But there may have been no more respected Canadian MMA trainer than Shawn Tompkins.

Just look at the reactions among the MMA community:

“Shawn is one of my best friends, one of the best if not the best striking coaches on the planet, and I mean this,” said Bas Rutten. “He always puts his students and friends before him, would do anything for them.”

“Sad to hear the news about Shawn Tompkins,” said Chuck Liddell. “My condolences to his family. He was a great guy and coach.”

“RIP Shawn Tompkins – your impact on MMA and this world will be remembered by millions,” said Shane Carwin.

“Big loss for our sport,” said UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta. “Shawn Tompkins. We will miss him!”

Looking at that list of names, it’s clear Shawn was revered around the world. In hindsight, I wish Canada did a better job honouring such a meaningful contributor to MMA.

It’s not too late, however. We can still pay tribute to him by celebrating his life and accomplishments. Here’s hoping someone makes a documentary to tell his amazing story. It would be a major step toward doing him justice.

R.I.P., Shawn Tompkins, and thanks for what you’ve done for our awesome sport.

MMA Training Toronto, North York, Brampton, Etobicoke, Markham, Mississauga, Oshawa, Peel Region, Pickering, Richmond Hill, Scarborough, Thornhill, Vaughan, Woodbridge, York, York Region Ontario Canada.

Five suspicious things about the Dan Hardy/Chris Lytle fight

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Five suspicious things about the Dan Hardy/Chris Lytle fight

By Matt Larkin

Guest writer

I hate when I get this feeling about MMA bouts – but the Dan Hardy/Chris Lytle main event on Sunday’s UFC on Versus card made me sick to my stomach. If felt very suspicious, almost artificial, like a WWE event. Here are five reasons why the Chris Lytle’s submission win over Dan Hardy made me nervous that it was fixed – almost more so than any other fight I can remember.

1. Chris Lytle was retiring after the fight and looking for a storybook ending. It almost felt too perfect. Lytle wanted to end his exciting career on a high note, with another bonus for a finish or Fight of the Night, and the victory with less than a minute on the clock was awfully convenient.

2. Since when does Dan Hardy not throw kicks? It felt like Hardy and Lytle agreed before the fight that boxing would be their primary fighting style and that they’d keep the other forms of striking to a minimum. Hardy is a Taekwondo black belt. Why did he use so few kicks to set up his strikes? He turned himself into Lytle’s personal punching bag, eating tons of shots while barely attempting to block them.

3. Since when does Dan Hardy attempt takedowns? We all know that Hardy’s weakness is his ground game. His wrestling and BJJ are passable at best. So why on Earth did he attempt late in the fourth round to take down Lytle, a man with superior ground skills? It felt like he was setting himself up to be submitted when he should’ve been going for broke with his fists.

4. Since when does Dan Hardy tap? Remember when Georges St-Pierre caught him in an armbar? No matter how hard GSP bent back his arm, Hardy wouldn’t quit. He’s known as a guy who simply doesn’t tap. To submit him, you must put him to sleep…or so we thought. Instead, Hardy surprised us all by awkwardly tapping after only a few seconds.

5. Hardy kept his job despite losing his fourth straight fight. In the UFC, three straight losses usually signal your demise in the UFC. Heck, these days, with all the mergers, even two losses can be enough to get you fired. But Dana White vowed to keep Dan Hardy after Sunday’s loss even though The Outlaw has now dropped four consecutive bouts because he likes guys who “war.”

Combining all the factors together paints a disturbing picture. Hardy appeared to abandon his gameplan and make life easy for the retiring Lytle, giving him all sorts of opportunities. The fight reeks of “do this favor for Lytle and we’ll make it worth your while.”

Is Rory MacDonald ready to contend?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With respect to a former champ like Carlos Newton and current UFC contenders like Mark Hominick and Sam Stout, Georges St-Pierre remains Canada’s one and only mixed martial arts superstar to date.

He’s the only guy to reach that “untouchable” status, land the “cool” endorsement deals, and become an icon outside his own country.

But is that about to change? Rory MacDonald’s performance at UFC 133 last Saturday was impressive enough to beg the question.

He rolled through Mike Pyle so easily that he almost looked insulted to have been given such an inferior opponent. MacDonald literally brushed off his shoulders after finishing Pyle – an opponent with 21 MMA victories and 17 submissions to his credit.

After walking through Pyle like he was nothing, MacDonald is now 12-1…at age 22. His only loss came to mega welterweight contender Carlos Condit – and Macdonald may have won that fight had Condit not TKO’d him with seven seconds remaining.

MacDonald has all the makings of a superstar. He has a solid wrestling base, he can submit opponents, his technical striking is strong and he has a swagger in the Octagon. Joe Rogan even went as far to say during Saturday’s telecast that MacDonald may have a higher ceiling than GSP.

And that’s what scares me. Is there a risk of pushing MacDonald up the ranks too quickly? He’s already voiced his interest in fighting Jon Fitch, who has lost once in his last 23 fights. I worry that he’s aiming too high, too soon.

The UFC really has something with MacDonald. He’s a new-age fighter who looks like he could be the 170-pound division’s answer to Jon Jones. But I hope the promotion is careful. Instead of Fitch, why not give MacDonald a contender from the next tier down, like Thiago Alves, Rick Story or Anthony Johnson?  To me, a Fitch fight is no-win. If MacDonald loses, his growing legacy gets tarnished. If he wins, he’d likely vault into No. 1 contender status and be forced to fight GSP, who is his training partner. That would be messy.

MacDonald’s emergence as a new potential Canadian MMA superstar is fantastic news. But I hope he isn’t rushed up the ladder too quickly.