Posts Tagged ‘UFC’

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.

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.

Was Henderson vs. Rua really the ‘fight of the century’?

Friday, November 25th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Well, that was the war we all knew it would be.

Dan Henderson versus Mauricio “Shogun” Rua was a match 10 years in the making and an extremely difficult one to call. Both guys possessed tremendous knockout power, both had beaten the best in the business and both were masters of their respective disciplines – Henderson Greco-Roman wrestling and Rua Muay Thai.

So it was no surprise the two star 205-pounders put on an epic show. Both guys took such horrific beatings that they were posing together for photos in the hospital after the fight. The UFC handed both of them six-month medical suspensions. Henderson got the decision but it easily could have gone the either way in such a back-and-forth bout. I personally scored it a draw (the first three rounds at 10-9 for “Hendo,” the fourth round 10-9 for Shogun and the final round 10-8).

It was a legendary bloodbath and a great way to showcase the new five-round format for non-title main events. But for me, the praise stops there. Some pundits and fans have resorted to hyperbole, labelling it the “greatest MMA fight of all time.”

That’s where I jump off the bandwagon. Though it was a fantastic battle and certainly one of the 2011’s best, I don’t consider it the best fight we’ve ever seen. I believe it was missing a few crucial elements necessary to elevate it to the all-time pantheon. To illustrate what I mean, I’ll refer to some of the bouts I do consider the best ever.

Did it feature a remarkable comeback?

No. It almost did. Shogun was inches away from being stopped midway through the fight, woozy from blood loss and turtling as Henderson rained down punches. That he rallied to utterly dominate Hendo in the later rounds constituted an absolutely remarkable comeback. But there was just one problem: he didn’t complete it. Shogun still lost.

One of my picks for the greatest fights of all time, Matt Hughes versus Frank Trigg II, featured the complete comeback. So did Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard III.

Did it feature non-stop action?

The kneejerk reaction is to say “Yes, are you kidding? It was all-out carnage.” Yes and no. Both fighters gave it their all – but to the point where they were exhausted and “zombified” by the final round. Hendo had nothing in the tank. It was rather anti-climactic.

For a non-stop tilt in which both guys kept swinging for five full rounds, give me Leonard Garcia versus Chan-Sung Jung any day of the week.

Was justice served?

Can a fight truly be one of the best ever if so many people believe the other guy won? From what I’ve heard and read, the judges were just about the only ones to score it in Hendo’s favor.

If you want a war on par with Henderson versus Rua, but where the right guy wins in the end, watch Forrest Griffin versus Stephan Bonnar I. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision but the case for Griffin’s win was very strong.

Based on the above questions, I believe Henderson /Rua fails the “greatest of all time” test. But don’t get me wrong; it was still a fantastic fight that deserves to be celebrated.

The top three wrestlers in MMA today

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

After debating with some friends over whether or not Georges St-Pierre is MMA’s best wrestler, it got me wondering: who would be my picks for the top three active practitioners in every MMA discipline? I’ll start with wrestling.

1. Chael Sonnen

Is he MMA’s most experienced wrestler? He’s a former Greco-Roman national champion and was dominant wrestling at the University of Oregon. His takedowns are explosive and he regularly manhandles bigger guys on the ground. Just ask Nate Marquardt and Brian Stann.

2. Georges St-Pierre

If the Canadian Olympic team wants you to try out, you know you’re a pretty good wrestler. Georges St-Pierre has transitioned smoothly from a Karate practitioner to a guy who relies more on boxing and especially wrestling to win fights. Unlike Sonnen, he works hard to pass once he’s on top and in an opponent’s guard, but Sonnen gets my No. 1 spot because of his experience edge in pure wrestling.

3. Cain Velasquez

Because the weight range is so wide, we see bigger size discrepancies at heavyweight than in any other division. That’s what makes Cain Velasquez particularly impressive. He is one of the smallest heavyweights in the UFC yet the undefeated champion has embarrassed guys who are not only bigger, but comfortable on the ground. He absolutely had his way with the hulking Ben Rothwell, for example. Even when the gargantuan Brock Lesnar took Velasquez down, the champ managed to do what no one else has done against Lesnar; get back up.

Velasquez rounds out the top three because he’s living proof that technique is more important than size and strength. In fact, that theme is prevalent among all three of these choices. What do you think, fight fans? Keeping in mind that I’m not factoring in retired fighters like Randy Couture, have I omitted someone better?

Why losing to Carlos Condit might help Georges St-Pierre’s legacy

Friday, October 14th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Make no mistake: swapping Carlos Condit in for Nick Diaz as Georges St-Pierre’s next challenger for the UFC welterweight title was not a lucky break for the champ.

In fact, I’d argue that Condit may give GSP his toughest test in years – at least since the Thiago Alves fight (on paper, as he ended up dominating Alves).

Condit embodies what mixed martial arts is all about. He’s the total package, displaying knockout power, solid BJJ and submission skills, excellent fitness and, most of all, a true killer instinct. It’s the latter trait that should have the champ sweating. Appropriately nicknamed the Natural Born Killer, Condit (27-5) is as good a finisher as anyone in the sport. Of his 27 victories, 26 have come via stoppage, 13 by knockout and 13 by submission. He has a granite jaw and has battled back to win some real wars.

Though overcoming St-Pierre’s wrestling will still be a challenge for the wiry Condit, he clearly poses a major threat to St-Pierre because he’s truly willing to go for broke and he attacks from any position in the cage, including on his back. That nasty edge is the one skill GSP lacks nowadays and it makes me wonder if losing this fight would be better for St-Pierre’s career.

With a 22-2 record and having avenged his only two losses, GSP has surpassed Matt Hughes as the greatest 170-punder ever to compete in MMA. He’s at worst the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But if he continues to fight the way he has his last few times in the cage, he’ll tarnish his legacy.

St-Pierre has begun fighting not to lose. It was particularly evident in his most recent title defenses against Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields, when he was clearly the superior striker but seemed afraid to fully engage. This conservative style has sent many a fan leaping off the GSP bandwagon.

GSP fights cautiously because he has little to gain and everything to lose when defending his title. If we ever want to see the GSP we fell in love with again, he may be better off losing the belt.

Falling to Condit would mean that GSP would have to change his game the next time out and win more decisively to gain top contender status and challenge for the belt again. He would have to battle in a way that didn’t leave the fight to the judges. He’d have to bust out all the athletic, dynamic strikes and takedowns that he used to, when he was the welterweight version of Jon Jones. Losing the belt would also open up a chance for GSP to challenge Anderson Silva at 185 pounds.

If St-Pierre keeps winning, he’ll forever be viewed as a dominant champion, but also as a boring one who didn’t take chances. He said he wants to be known as the best fighter of all-time. To do that, he may need to be humbled first. If Condit breaks GSP down, the legend may build himself back up better than ever.

The Top Five Rematches in UFC History

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard set to meet for the third time at UFC 136 this Saturday, I have rematches on the mind. Excluding their epic draw, what are the greatest rematches in UFC history?

1. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II (2005)

Considering some call this bout the best in MMA history, it has to top the list of best rematches. I’ve discussed it on this blog before: Hughes took a low blow from Trigg, the ref didn’t see, it, he got caught in a choke…but he battled back, slammed Trigg and reversed the choke. Absolutely epic.

All time series: 2-0 Hughes

2. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes II (2006)

In the second of their three bouts, St-Pierre exploded into superstardom with a spectacular head-kick knockout. Hughes lost the welterweight title and was never the same.

All-time series: 2-1 St-Pierre

3. Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski II (2006)

Like No. 1 on this list, Sylvia/Arlovski deserves recognition for being a spectacular fight, let alone a rematch. Arlovski rushed in after he appeared to have Sylvia knocked out but the big fella rebounded with a devastating KO punch of his own.

All-time series: 2-1 Sylvia

4. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II ((2009)

In the most watched pay-per-view UFC bout ever, Brock Lesnar made plenty of fans and enemies by pounding Mir into dust. The rematch was special not only because these two hated each other but because of Lesnar’s brash speech after winning the fight, in which he called out Bud Light as an inferior sponsor and talked about going home to get freaky with his wife.

All time series: Tied 1-1

5. Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin II (2007)

I struggled to pick this one but I chose Silva’s spectacular Muay Thai display because of its significance. Before his first loss to Silva, Franklin was considered an unstoppable middleweight champion. The second straight devastating defeat against the Spider showed us that Silva’s first win was no fluke – and that he was the world’s best fighter.

All-time series: 2-0 Silva

Honorable mentions: Rampage Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva III, Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell II, BJ Penn vs Jens Pulver II

Has Jon Jones passed Georges St-Pierre in the pound-for-pound debate?

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Another high-profile fight, another easy-breezy win for Jon “Bones” Jones.

Last weekend, the UFC’s light heavyweight champion and youngest belt holder in the promotion’s history battled a legend of the sport, Rampage Jackson, and tossed him aside like nothing.

The fight lasted four rounds but wasn’t remotely close. Jones picked Jackson apart with his ridiculous reach and unpredictability in the striking game, softening him up before choking him out. Rampage barely laid a finger on him. Most other high-profile MMA fighters even believe Jones toyed with Rampage and could’ve finished the fight sooner.

The epic performance called to mind the current world pound-for-pound rankings. Jones is almost a consensus top-four pick, with Cain Velasquez arguably deserving the fifth spot. After Jose Aldo got beat up in his last defense, it’s fair to argue that Jones deserves at least the No. 3 spot. But what about the top two spots?

It’s fair to say that Anderson Silva remains untouchable at No. 1. He’s won 15 straight fights and has never lost in the UFC. But what about Georges St-Pierre?

On paper, the welterweight champion has done little to lose the second rung on the ladder, having won nine consecutive fights. But a look at four pound-for-pound factors shows suggests GSP and Jones may be interchangeable.

1. Longevity

Naturally, GSP still has the edge at this stage. He’s 22-2 for his career and has defended his UFC welterweight title six straight times. Jones’ defense streak sits at one and counting.

Edge: St-Pierre

2. Dominance

A few years ago, GSP would’ve gotten plenty of votes, as his wrestling has made him dominant. But Jones has taken dominance to an even higher level. In 15 pro fights, the kid hasn’t sustained a scratch. No opponent has landed a noteworthy strike, takedown or submission attempt. Jones has utterly owned his rivals with unorthodox, accurate striking, powerful wrestling and evasiveness.

The crazy thing about Jones: as his opponents get tougher, he doesn’t become less dominant. He made legends like Rampage and Shogun look just as bad as his early conquests like Stephan Bonnar and Jake O’Brien. He beat an elite wrestler like Ryan Bader with superior wrestling. He beat an amazing Muay Thai striker in Shogun with superior striking. No fighter in MMA history has ever obliterated the competition like Jones through his first 15 bouts.

Edge: Jones

3. Quality of Opponents

GSP still gets the clear edge here. Jones was coddled to start his UFC career and, after breezing through some vets and young pups, arguably has only three victories that matter (Bader, Rua, Jackson).

GSP, meanwhile, has cleaned out the competition at 170 pounds. He’s beaten two of the greatest fighters of all time, BJ Penn and Matt Hughes, twice each. He’s avenged his only two defeats (Hughes and Matt Serra). He has turned aside everyone thrown his way.

Edge: St-Pierre

4. Intimidation factor

St-Pierre was a much more intimidating fighter a few years ago, when he used his Karate to pummel opponents. But his lack of finishing ability in recent years has been well-documented. Dana White has defended GSP, stating that his opponents have gotten tougher and thus made it tougher for him to put guys away. But tough competition hasn’t stopped Silva from burying opponents and it seems no one can go the distance with Jones anymore.

As Pat Barry explained, Jones has reached “Mike Tyson status.” Fighters are afraid of him and have no idea how to solve him.

Edge: Jones

To me, St-Pierre and Jones are on equal footing as co-No. 2s in the pound-for-pound rankings. The way things are trending, Jones may be alone in the second spot before long.

What to Expect from the Ultimate Fighter 14

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

The UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality show returns for its 14th season and final go-round with Spike TV next week. The program has fallen on hard times recently. Ratings were down and the coaches were duds last season; winning the show also seems to “mean” less in MMA these days, as recent victors haven’t accomplished much in the UFC.

However, I expect TUF 14 to be one of the show’s better seasons. Here are a few things to watch for that I believe will make this season plenty of fun.

Charismatic coaches

I expect middleweight contenders Michael Bisping and Jason Miller to be among the most entertaining coaching tandems in the show’s history. We all know how outspoken Bisping is; the Englishman always has something to say and loves the camera.

The BJJ expert Miller is a lesser-known commodity. However, he’s just as brash as Bisping and just as much of an attention hog. He hosted the MTV show Bully Beatdown. It’s too bad Chael Sonnen was barred from coaching this season but Miller should be a more than adequate replacement. The coaches should be more front and center than they have been since Tito Ortiz’s last coaching go-round.

More fights

This season features two weight classes, bantamweight and featherweight, and should treat us to more action than in previous seasons. TUF 14 opens with 32 fighters in total instead of the 16 who started last season; the show has brought back the “fight your way into the house” format. So we’re guaranteed more action this season right from the start.

Wild fights

Despite being perceived as a lacklustre season, TUF 13 deserved more credit for having some excellent bouts. That trend should continue with the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. These guys have insane speed and gas tanks. We don’t have to worry about the huffing and puffing we saw in the heavyweight season.

Better fighters

Secondly, it won’t be amateur hour with these weight classes. Since bantamweights and featherweights are only just starting to break into the UFC, it’s possible Dana White will uncover some highly talented, undiscovered fighters in TUF 14.

The UFC on FOX: What it means

Monday, September 5th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Well, this should be exciting. As you’ve probably heard in the MMA community over the last week, the UFC and FOX will debut their massive TV partnership on November 12, with Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos battling it out for heavyweight title live. It will mark the first-ever UFC event, let alone title fight, on network television.

Many casual fans out there are wondering: what does the partnership really mean? How will it change the sport and how it’s perceived? Let’s break down a few changes we should notice.

1. More mainstream promotion.

As the top network in America, FOX obviously has a lot of influence, and it’s charged with the task of being the first major network to acknowledge mixed martial arts as a sport and not something barbaric. FOX has already begun its work. It promoted the Velasquez/Dos Santos fight during a baseball game over the weekend.

2. A shift to a cleaner image.

During the initial press conference when the UFC and FOX announced their agreement, I noticed that the accompanying highlight clips were “clean.” Lots of submissions and, when there was striking, we saw no blood. The UFC is also changing its opening title credits, saying goodbye to the gladiator imagery and (probably) the hardcore heavy metal. The transition to mainstream TV is all about trying to show the layman viewer that MMA is not the “dangerous,” violent sport people think it is.

3. More pressure on fighters to sell bouts.

With the UFC’s advent of mandatory Twitter posting for all athletes, it already took a step in this direction before the FOX deal. But fighter personalities will be much more important as millions of new viewers get to know who they are. This could be a challenge for a guy like Cain Velasquez whereas the Forrest Griffins and Rich Franklins of the world will flourish.

4. “Babying” the audience.

When asked about how he intends to fill the hour-long time slot for the heavyweight title fight, Dana White explained that a lot of introductory programming is in order. Many new viewers will have to learn the rules and be taught the basics of the game, such as what BJJ, Muay Thai, the clinch, full mount, and other terms mean. It may be temporarily frustrating for the diehards.

5. A major leg up on boxing.

Sorry, boxing, but unless you put Manny Pacquiao on NBC, ABC or CBS, you’re officially behind in the race to be the world’s top combat sport.
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The Great G.O.A.T. Debate

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Any time a superstar in a sport gives a signature performance, it’s common for fans to start up a “Greatest of All Time” or “G.O.A.T.” discussion. MMA is no different from any other sport; after Anderson Silva’s decimation of Yushin Okami last Saturday, people are wondering if it’s safe to call him the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

It especially helps The Spider’s cause that (a) Fedor Emelianenko has destroyed his legacy over the last year to the point where he’s not even in the running and (b) Despite his continued dominance, Georges St-Pierre has lulled us into forgetting how good he is because of his conservative, uninspired efforts of late.

To me, the interesting part of the G.O.A.T. debate in MMA isn’t whether or not it’s Anderson Silva. To me, there’s no question right now. He holds the record for consecutive UFC wins and title defenses and he has never lost in the Octagon.

The more fascinating hot topic I’ve stumbled upon lately is whether or not MMA is old enough to have a G.O.A.T. Some people believe that, because MMA is so young, it can’t have a greatest of all time yet. People of this mindset believe that we haven’t even scratched the surface of how good mixed martial artists can be, and that the next superstars, physical freaks in the Jon Jones/Rory MacDonald mode, will be far superior to guys like Silva when their careers end.

Personally, I think it’s ludicrous to say that a G.O.A.T. can’t exist. It’s implied that the greatest of all time is always the greatest of all time so far. Even if MMA was one year old, it would still have the right of having a “greatest.” Royce Gracie held that honor in the 1990s, and deservedly so. He was an innovator whose Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed the sport forever.

Anderson Silva deserves his G.O.A.T status just as much. He, too is a trailblazer because of his amazing grace, evasiveness, accuracy, showmanship and finishing ability. He’s a Muay Thai version of Muhammad Ali.

The best way I can close the debate on whether or not a young sport can have a G.O.A.T: saying that Anderson Silva doesn’t deserve the title yet would be like saying in 80 years ago that Babe Ruth didn’t deserve it in his sport because “baseball was still too young.”