Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bellator BW Tourney: Young Prospects, Decorated Grapplers and Rematches

Bellator’s Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament kicks off this weekend at Bellator 51 in Canton, Ohio. The winner of this stacked eight-man tournament takes home a check for $100,000 and the chance to fight Bellator 135lb Champion Zach “Fun Size” Makovsky (13-2). The tournament is full of young prospects, highly decorated grapplers and plenty of intrigue, as 7 of the 8 fighters have fought either another participant or the current champion.

The night’s main event features Joe Warren (7-1), on his quest to hoard all the gold he can, against undefeated Alexis Vila (9-0). Warren, the current Bellator Featherweight Champion, has been quite vocal about his desire to capture the 135lb title while defending his 145lb title and making a run for a gold medal in Greco-Roman Wrestling at the 2012 London Olympics.

If Warren is in need of some advice about Olympic glory, he’ll have to look no further than across the cage. Vila won a bronze medal in Freestyle Wrestling at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics for his native Cuba.

Vila has fully committed himself to MMA and hooked up with American Top Team in Coconut Creek, FL. The best way to describe Vila is powerful. He drives through his takedowns, slams his opponents, throws heavy strikes on the ground and has finished 8 of his 9 opponents. But the 40-year old Vila, who is normally a flyweight, will have a noticeable size disadvantage in the biggest MMA fight of his career.

The match will showcase two truly world-class wrestlers. Warren is a former World Champion and was a frontrunner to make the 2008 US Olympic Team when he tested positive for Marijuana during trials and was suspended for two years. Warren’s takedowns and wild standup have put him into danger in his fights, but they have also secured him several close decisions in his short career.

The second tournament quarterfinal will showcase another highly respected grappler, Brazil’s Wilson Reis (12-3), facing off with one of the best 135lb prospects in the world, Nova Uniao’s Eduardo ‘Dudu’ Dantas (12-2).

After being eliminated in the semi-finals of three Bellator Featherweight tournaments, Reis will take a shot at the bantamweights. His confidence will be bolstered by a 2008 submission victory over current Champion Zach Makovsky.

At the age of 22, Dantas already has 14 professional fights on his resume, and has been a staple of Shooto Brazil cards since his 18th birthday. That year, Dantas fought five times and stunned the MMA world with a win over Shooto Bantamweight (123lb) Champion ‘BJ’ Kojima in a non-title fight.

Dantas is a high intensity fighter that can be wild and aggressive, but he never gets flustered when he’s hit. ‘Dudu’ has shown the ability to use his reach and long legs to keep opponents outside of striking range, but he rarely sticks to a conservative gameplan for long. He uses plenty of kicks and flying knees because he has a slick submission game and is completely unafraid of fighting from his back.

Dantas will be well advised to keep the fight standing instead of letting Reis get into his comfort zone on the ground. Dantas will also have to adjust to the crowd as he makes his debut on US soil against a seasoned veteran.

Not to be outdone by the highly decorated wrestlers in the main event, two-time Jiu-Jitsu World Champion Marcos Galvao (9-4-1) will take on former WEC Bantamweight Champion Chase Beebe (19-7).

As one of the best grapplers in the world, Galvao entered the MMA scene with plenty of fanfare, but he has struggled to convert his vast skills into submission victories. The Nova Uniao fighter is coming off of a controversial loss to Joe Warren in a catchweight fight. Although Galvao appeared to control the opening round by outwrestling Warren and went on to land several big knees in the second, Galvao managed to lose a unanimous decision that included one 30-27 scorecard.

Beebe was on the rise after defeating Eddie Wineland for the WEC title and then outgrappling ADCC Champion Rani Yahya. But Chase hit a skid that saw him drop 6 of 8 fights, including a fight against Joe Warren in Japan that was stopped due to a cut and an outrageously bad decision against Mike Easton that will go down as one of the worst decisions in MMA history.

Chase, who’s brother appeared on Wednesday night’s TUF season premier, has now won his last 5 fights and hopes to continue his run as he steps back up onto the bigger stage, but he’ll face a much stiffer challenge in Galvao.

The main card will open up with a fight between two of the lesser-known fighters in the tournament. Season three’s bantamweight tournament finalist Ed “Wild” West (16-5) takes his first step towards a rematch with Zach Makovsky by taking on dangerous Brazilian prospect Luis Alberto Nogueira (11-1).

West had a seven-fight win streak snapped in the Makovsky fight. He has found a good balance between his striking and jiu-jitsu but his wrestling is a weakness. West battled hard and showed great conditioning in the five-round title fight, but the former DI wrestler, Makovsky, was able to grind out a clear unanimous decision with repeated takedowns and ground and pound throughout all five rounds.

Nogueira is a luta livre fighter and another veteran of Shooto Brazil. He is on a seven fight win streak that includes a victory over Jerod Spoon that earned him a spot in the tournament. ‘Betao’ is a Brazilian National Wrestling Champion with a solid striking game. He loves to showcase all of his tools, including flying knees, spinning back kicks and bone-crunching leg kicks.

Nogueira may be hoping for some favorable matchmaking that will give him a chance to avenge his lone defeat at the hands of Eduardo Dantas. Nogueira will also have to work hard on his defense to avoid taking as many clean shots as he did in the Spoon fight. West has dangerous submissions and does not fear working from the guard, but he is also willing to stand and trade from both a traditional MMA stance and a karate/TKD style side stance.

Friday, July 15, 2011

This Weekend in MMA (Japanese Edition)

Although it may be a while before any North Americans get to see them, there will be some tremendous fights in Tokyo, Japan this weekend. Here's a look at just a few of these fine matchups.

Dream.17 7/16

Gegard Mousasi (30-3-2) © vs Hiroshi Izumi (4-1)

Dream LHW Championship

Gegard Mousasi is one of three fighters from the April Strikeforce: Daly vs. Diaz card fighting at Dream.17. ‘The Dreamcatcher’ will defend his Dream LHW title for the first time against Japanese Judoka and Olympic hero Hiroshi Izumi.

Mousasi, the former Dream MW and Strikeforce LHW Champion, will look to bounce back from a disappointing majority draw against Keith Jardine by returning to a promotion with which he has had so much success. Including Dynamite!! 2009, Mousasi is 8-0 under the Dream banner. In fact, the 30-3-2 Mousasi has found success all around the world. With 28 finishes to go with multiple kickboxing and amateur boxing wins, he is one of the most dangerous and exciting fighters in the world.

Izumi is just 4-1 in MMA and will be taking a huge step-up in competition. The biggest win of his career came at Dynamite!! 2010 against the much smaller but always game Minowaman. But the 29-year old will have plenty of experience to draw from as the 2004 Olympic silver medalist in Judo. The Tokyo fans will surely be excited for the possibility of Izumi unseating the champ, however small that possibility may be.

Hiroyuki Takaya (15-9-1)© vs Kazuyuki Miyata (11-7)

Dream FW Championship

Hiroyuki Takaya will put his recently captured Dream Featherweight Title on the line against “Little Hercules” Kazuyuki Miyata. Takaya won the belt from Bibiano Fernandes at Dynamite!! 2010 by unanimous decision in a rematch of the FW Grand Prix final.

At 11 wins and 7 losses, Miyata does not bring the most impressive record into the ring, but he has put together a six fight winning streak to earn himself a shot at the title. His last two fights, wins over UFC/Pride veteran Caul Uno and former Shooto champion ‘Lion’ Takeshi, were the most impressive of his career. Miyata is an impressively strong fighter that competed in freestyle wrestling at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Hiroyuki Takaya is another of the Dream fighters coming off of a fight with Strikeforce, and his journey may be the most disappointing of the three. ‘Streetfight Bancho’ saw his record fall to 0-3 on American soil as he dropped a split decision to previously unheralded prospect Roberto Peralta of Honduras.

Takaya is a good technical striker with power in both hands. He used his leg kicks effectively in defeating Fernandes, and he’ll need to use them again to wear down the legs and slow the shot of Miyata. Takaya has been put on his back in multiple fights, but he never stays there long. He is a prototypical Sprawl and Brawler.

The 35-year old Miyata, who speaks English well and has expressed interest in becoming an international star, recently secured a lucrative sponsorship deal with Nike and can propel himself to stardom with a win over Takaya. Miyata’s grinding style and international wrestling credentials make him a great fit for the cage and the 10-9 scoring system. Strength will be Little Hercules’s biggest assets as he was able to easily suplex both Takeshi and Uno multiple times, but cardio may be his weakness. Miyata was noticeably tired after his 15-minute fight with Takeshi, even after taking plenty of time to recover from a pair of low blows.

Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-7-2) vs. Drew Fickett (41-14)

“Crusher” Kawajiri is the final of the Strikeforce trio fighting at Dream.17. Kawajiri, a borderline top 10 fighter, will take on UFC and Strikeforce veteran Drew Fickett in a lightweight battle that brings two experienced veterans into the ring.

Former Shooto champion Kawajiri is a powerful wrestler with great control, but he will have his hands full with Fickett’s active ground game. Kawajiri uses his strength well in the stand up game and he is not afraid to trade leather. He proved that by getting into a K-1 superfight with kickboxing great Masato.

Kawajiri’s first fight in the US did not go any better than his fellow Dream fighters. Kawajiri lasted just 3:14 in his LW title fight against world-ranked Gilbert Melendez in a rematch of a 2006 Pride fight. Although he has a tendency to come up short in his biggest fights, Kawajiri has been in the ring with some of the best 155-LB fighters in history including Melendez, Takanori Gomi, Shinya Aoki, Eddie Alvarez and Shaolin Ribeiro.

Fickett (41-14) will hope for better luck than his opponent found on foreign soil as he brings his extensive resume, including 30 submission victories, to Japan for the first time. Fickett began his career back in 1999 at the age of 19 and amassed 12 victories before his 21st birthday. The submission master was 4-3 in the UFC including landing a last minute desperation knee to the head of Josh Koscheck that lead to Fickett's rear-naked choke victory.

Shooto - Shootor's Legacy 3 7/18

Yasuhiro Urushitani (18-4-6) © Yuki Shojo (11-5-2)

Shooto World Flyweight Title

Japan's top flyweight, Shooto Champion Yasuhiro Urushitani, will attempt to defend his title and avenge his 2008 loss against Yuki Shojo. The champ enters the fight with an 18-4-6 record and has won four straight fights since the Shojo loss.

In their first fight, Urushitani was the superior striker and proved too quick for Shojo in open space. That was until he landed a straight right that dropped Urushitani with less than two minutes remaining in the fight. Shaken by another combination, he dropped for a sloppy takedown and was forced to tap from a guillotine choke.

Urushitani is a supremely accurate striker with tons of speed that he uses to stay out of range. With the confidence to throw a flying knee at any time, he has to fight the urge to be too flashy. It was a spinning back fist that left him exposed to Shojo's right hand.

Shojo is an aggressive fighter with good cardio but he has only fought twice since September 2009. He'll need to be more successful in the clinch this time around if he wants to control the fight this time around.

Rumina “Moon Wolf” Sato (26-14-2) vs. Masakatsu Ueda (12-1-2)

Rumina Sato is a true pioneer of Japanese MMA. He has been fighting Shooto since 1994 and this will be the 17th year in a row that he has fought. The veteran will face stiff competition in former Shooto Featherweight Champion Masakatsu Ueda.

Ueda is one of the best featherweights in the world with his only loss coming from an amazing Brabo Choke by Shuichiro Katsumura from rubber guard. Ueda has extensive grappling credentials in both Japanese college and Combat Wrestling and has developed a solid technical striking game with excellent kicks. Rumors of Ueda coming to fight in America have persisted but never come to fruition.

Sato is an excellent submission fighter himself, but he is not as dangerous as he once was. Sato started his career by submitting nine of his first eleven opponents and defeated Charles Diaz (11-5) via flying armbar in just 6 seconds. Recently “Moon Wolf” has been reckless in his striking which has lead to some spectacular finishes in his last few fights.

Knothe Off Shark Fights 17 replaced by Doug Williams

Due to a miscommunication, Karl Knothe (19-6) will not fight former UFC HW Champion Ricco "Suave" Rodriguez (46-11) in tonight's Shark Fights 17 co-Main Event. Knothe claims that he was unaware of the 230-pound catchweight when he weighed in at 253.7 LBs. Knothe will be replaced by Doug Williams (5-12).

Williams was originally scheduled to fight Daniel Almeida.

This Weekend in MMA (American Edition)

Shark Fights 17: Friday, July 15 - Live on HDNET

Jake Rosholt (11-3-0) vs Matt “Suave” Horwich (27-18-1)

Three-time NCAA National Champion Jake Rosholt will enter his sixth fight of 2011 against Matt “Suave” Horwich in the Main Event of Shark Fights 17. The fight is a rematch of a 190-pound catchweight match that ended in a 3rd round TKO victory for Horwich, a 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu fighter.

Rosholt showcased his strengths throughout the first round with strong takedowns and dealt damage from the top position. Horwich took over the fight after the first with a wide array of ground skills, including sweeps off of his back and submission attempts. Eventually, Horwich was able to take the back of a tired and beaten Rosholt and finished him with strikes from the back in the third.

Few athletes entered the sport of MMA with the build-up of Rosholt. Fresh out of Oklahoma State University, Rosholt joined Team Takedown, an MMA management

company that pays high-level wrestlers to train MMA. Rosholt was put into the spotlight early with portions of his fourth pro fight and the training leading up to it airing on Versus as part of the TapouT show. His fifth fight was on the main card of WEC 36, and amid some talk about a TV clause in his contract Rosholt’s UFC debut at Fight Night 17 aired on SpikeTV.

Traveling a much different path through life, Horwich reached the UFC four months before Rosholt but in his 36th fight. Both fighters, coincidentally, lost their debuts to Dan Miller. Horwich, also known as “The Fighting Hippy,” is the definition of a journeyman in both his life and career. A reformed addict and self-professed lover of God, The Bible and quantum physics, Horwich has fought in the UFC, WEC, Strikeforce, Bellator, IFL and over a dozen other MMA promotions.

Ricco Suave Rodriguez (46-11-0) vs. Karl Knothe (19-6-0)

Former UFC HW Champion Ricco Rodriguez will fulfill the Suave requirement for the co-Main Event as he takes on Karl Knothe at a 230-pound catchweight. Fighting off the radar, Rodriguez has put together an 11-fight win streak in less than 20 months by taking every fight offered to him. To make that point crystal clear, Ricco is already scheduled to face Seth Petruzelli at Bellator 48 in August.

Karl Knothe will enter the cage sporting a 12-fight win streak that has seen him finish each opponent in the first round. The Minnesota native and former St Cloud State University wrestler boasts a professional record of 19-6, but he told that his true record is 59-6 when including the long list of fights that went unreported. Knothe has a good mix of power in his hands and both the ability and willingness to fight on the ground.

He will need all of those tools to best Ricco Suave. Rodriguez won gold and silver medals at the 1998 ADCC submission fighting championship and took the UFC title from legend Randy Couture in 2002. Since then, Rodriguez has struggled to fit into a proper weight class and has battled addiction to both prescription and illicit drugs. He notably appeared on the first season of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. This will be Ricco’s third straight fight at a catchweight.

MASS – Inauguration 7/16

Jacob “The Hunter” Kirwan (8-2) vs. Jimy “The Kid” Hettes (6-0)

MASS Featherweight Championship

The first ever Martial Arts Super Sport main event will feature two promising American featherweight prospects. Jacob “The Hunter” Kirwan won the Ring of Combat FW Title in February and he’ll have to go through Jimy “The Kid” Hettes if he wants to add another title to his mantle.

UFC matchmaker Joe Silva tapped the undefeated Hettes as a late replacement for Leonard Garcia at The Ultimate Fighter 12 finale, but Hettes was already locked into a fight at Northeast MMA’s Cage Fight 6. A NEPA Gracie fighter, Hettes has submitted all six of his professional opponents and has spent some time training with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, NM.

If the fight hits the ground, fireworks are sure to follow. Kirwan is a BJJ brown belt under Luke Rinehart and has won five of his eight fights via submission. As a former Maryland high school wrestling champion, Kirwan has a strong grappling pedigree.

The card is being held on July 16th at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT and will feature Ultimate Fighter veterans Kris “Savage” McCray and Joseph “Leonidas” Henle in separate fights.

Elite-1 MMA – Moncton 7/16

Elite-1 Light Heavyweight Championship

Jeremy “Gumby” Horn (87-21-5) vs Shawn Marchand (8-6)

With 113 fights under his belt, Jeremy Horn is one of the most prolific fighters in MMA history. “Gumby” fought an amazing 21 times in 1999 and has been in the cage with a who’s-who of fighters that include: Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, Dan Severn, "Minotauro" Nogueira, Chael Sonnen, Ricardo Arona and Matt Lindland.

Horn will add another fight to his resume this weekend when he battles for the Elite-1 Light Heavyweight Championship against Canadian Shawn Marchand. Horn is a dangerous fighter with great submissions and plenty of experience. He is a UFC veteran and former title challenger.

Marchand is a local fighter that has found a home in Elite-1. He also holds the promotion’s Middleweight Title, although he missed the 185 LB mark in his last fight. In that fight, Marchand had a lot of trouble handling the stand-up of fellow Canadian Joe Doerksen and only lasted 43 seconds after eating several head kicks and right hands. With only one fight on his record that went the distance, you can expect this fight to end well before the final bell.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Stann is the man we want our sons to become. Chael Sonnen is a hero that has fallen from grace

As I sat on my couch on the 4th of July, drinking from a Budweiser can draped in the American flag and watching a man shovel 62 hotdogs into his mouth, I couldn’t help feeling like the personification of everything wrong with America. The Budweiser in my hand, now owned by Belgium based AB-InBev, displayed a false sense of patriotism as I sat motionless reveling in the country’s true national pastime, eating.

American heroes were once heralded for their courage and humility. Now, foul-mouthed celebrities are celebrated and made more famous by every mug shot and inflammatory comment.

Brian Stann is a true American Hero. He is a warrior and an ambassador of martial arts. Stann is the man we want our sons to become. Chael Sonnen is a hero that has fallen from grace. As an aspiring politician, disgraced realtor and felon recently back from a PED suspension, he is a representation of America’s troubled state. And in true WWE fashion good and evil will meet at UFC 136, except this time both men will be draped in the American flag.

Both Stann and Sonnen know full well the responsibility and dedication required to wear the stars and stripes. Stann served in two tours of Iraq and earned a Silver Star for “zealous initiative, courageous actions and exceptional presence of mind." Sonnen, an All-American at the University of Oregon, earned a spot as an alternate on the United States Greco-Roman Wrestling team at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

Since entering the spotlight, the two men have followed very different paths towards Houston’s Toyota Center. Dana White describes Stann perfectly. “He is on his way to becoming a superstar," White said. "Not only are his skills getting better, everything that comes out of this kid's mouth is a homerun.”

Sonnen, on the other hand, has taken a Dana-like, pro-wrestling inspired approach to the microphone (Sonnen 3:16 says I just mocked your ass). Whether it’s Lance Armstrong or the entire country of Brazil, nobody is safe from his taunts. Both in person and through the twitter account that he has both promoted and denied the existence of, Sonnen is a lightning rod for controversy.

Through, Sonnen recently said, "Wanderlei tells me that he's going to send me to the dentist… I will cut the power to your house and do a home invasion. You will hear me climbing up the stairs in a pair of night vision goggles I bought in the back of 'Solder of Fortune' magazine. The next thing you'll hear is me picking the lock of your bedroom door and taking a photograph of you in bed with the Nogueira brothers working on your jiu-jitsu.”
What Sonnen failed to mention is that Wanderlei was telling Chael to be more respectful of Brazil and that MMA legend Silva spoke to Chael face-to-face, not behind his back or through the media.

In stark contrast, after his UFC 130 TKO of Jorge Santiago, Stann said, “I’d always love to fight Wanderlei. He’s one of my favorite fighters ever. It would be a dream come true. But, if I never have to fight him, then maybe I can just get a picture with him and an autograph. That would be pretty cool.”

If this were the WWE, the fans in Houston would explode when Stann locked up a submission victory and marched from turnbuckle to turnbuckle waving the flag and leading the fans in the familiar chant of “USA! USA! USA!” But MMA is not fake, and Sonnen is the toughest opponent of Stann’s life. The toughest opponent not firing a gun in his direction.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bellator Fighting for A Spot on Saturday Night

With a highlight reel full of devastating knockouts and impressive submissions that seems to grow every week, Bellator Fighting Championships has solidified itself as must-see TV for hardcore MMA fans. And after struggling with a constantly shifting schedule and being preempted by major sports telecasts on Fox Sports, the organization has found a new home on MTV2, but they have not taken the easy route.

Fighting on Saturday Nights is a bold choice made by CEO Bjorn Rebney, as there will be competition from bigger MMA organizations almost every week. Through the first five Bellator events of the season, three have been on the same night as a UFC or Strikeforce card. Bellator drew their best ratings, a combined 471,000 viewers for the live and replay telecasts of Bellator 36, on one of the weeks devoid of competition.

With Bellator's tournament format, the fights will continue to get better and the names will get bigger. Bellator 40-42 feature tournament semi-finals on top of non-title matches for US Olympian Ben Askren (Welterweight) as well as non-title fights for champions Joe Warren (Featherweight), Zach Makovsky (Bantamweight) and Cole Konrad (Heavyweight). Bellator 39 featured the first title defense of Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez.

But the big names and big fights will not guarantee big ratings. The unopposed Bellator 39 drew a combined 263,000 viewers and Bellator 40 will go against a stacked Strikeforce card headlined by title fights featuring Nick Diaz vs Paul Daley and Gilbert Melendez vs Tatsuya Kawajiri.

Increased viewership will come down to how well Bellator can market itself to the casual fan. MTV already features the popular show Bully Beatdown featuring Strikeforce fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller. But one thing is for sure, the fights cannot get much more exciting. Bellator already has early contenders for KO of the Year with Patricky Pitbull's flying knee and Submission of the Year with Richard Hale's inverted triangle.

35 – 200,000 (127,000) March 5 vs Strikeforce Hendo vs Feijao

36 – 230,000 (241,000) March 12 Unopposed

37 – 173,000 (150,000) March 19 vs UFC 128

38 – 150,000 (90,000) March 26 vs UFC Davis vs Nogueira

39 – 174,000 (89,000) April 2 Unopposed

40 – April 9 vs Strikeforce Daley vs Diaz

41 – April 16 Unopposed

42 – April 23 Unopposed