Saturday, August 25, 2007

UFC 74 Preview

Couture vs Gonzaga

Okay let me just say this from the get-go. I’m not buying the Gonzaga hype and I’ll see about catching a seat on his bandwagon later. Looking at the cold hard facts I see little reason for people to take him over Randy Couture who’s fought and beaten some of the best fighters in the world. It’s entirely possible that Gonzaga is going to prove all his fans correct but in looking at their respective records I have to say Couture will win.

Neither am I necessarily buying into this “this is the best Randy Couture we’ve ever seen” stuff. I do think that Randy is the better all around fighter and the most experienced by far. Look for him to be aggressive early so that, should it make it to the later rounds, he would have the advantage of experience and quite possibly stamina.

Randy technically sound on the standup, don’t look for his hands to dip low enough to allow a kick to the head. In fact Gonzaga would be better served utilizing low kicks, trying to chop the champ’s legs. If he lands a few it could really impact Randy’s speed and takedown attempts. Not that Gonzaga doesn’t want to go to the ground but it’s always nice to limit your opponent’s ability, not to mention that that is the best way to lower a fighter’s hands, by going low. If they go to the ground look for Randy to be on the top and I really wouldn’t expect him to get caught in a submission attempt from the guard at this stage of his career. Unfortunately, the Natural isn’t one of those guys who can do massive damage from the guard either, so he’ll need to improve his position which I think he could have trouble with. So, bottom line, we could see some stall-outs and stand-ups when it goes to the ground unless Randy can get to side control on his takedowns.

Some issue has been made of the fact that Randy has trouble with the big heavyweights but I don’t know that Gonzaga really qualifies. He’s the same height, or maybe even an inch shorter, and about twenty or thirty pounds heavier. That’s not exactly Ricco Rodriguez or Josh Barnett dimensions.

Winner: Randy Couture

Georges St. Pierre vs Josh Koscheck

Much talk in this fight has been about GSP’s heart. Against Matt Hughes, the first time he did have a mental lapse. Against Matt Serra though, I’m not sure he did. He got belted numerous times and got totally dominated yes but I’m not sure most other fighters wouldn’t have succumbed to those shots. If history is any lesson GSP comes back stronger after his losses. Just look at his overwhelming performance in the revenge match with Hughes. Has Koscheck fought anyone on Hughes’ level, the most dominant welterweight in the world, let alone beat them? Hell, no. Has he had a three round battle with BJ Penn? No. Koscheck is the fighter with something to prove, period.

There are several interesting facets of this fight. Can Kos, probably the best wrestler in the UFC now take down St. Pierre, one of the very best takedown defenders? Matt Hughes couldn’t in their second fight and he looks a bit stronger than Josh Koscheck. Can “Rush” take down Josh who has fantastic sprawl-work as well. Remember the Canadian took Sean Sherk down at will.

Also Josh’s hands look very strong against Diego, he seemed to be a better boxer than what GSP has shown himself to be but St. Pierre has the quicker hands and probably better kickboxing.

Winner: Georges St. Pierre

The rest of the card look to have some really nice looking fights. Huerta is an up and comer with strong all around skills, look for him to showcase them. Cote against Grove is a tough one to call. Grove’s toughness and stamina make him seem like he’s carved from wood or something. Cote though has serious punching power. I’ll take Grove but it could be a war. Mir vs Hardonk is intriguing. A former world champ, and BJJ stylist against a kickboxer. Look for this to go to the ground and Mir to win but Hardonk is improving and at some point he’s going to go on a tear, will this be that time?

My money says that the show stealing fight will be Clay Guida against Marcus Aurelio. Guida makes great fights, his bout with Tyson Griffin is probably my favorite all-time fight. Aurelio is a dangerous ground fighter who beat Pride champ Takanori Gomi in a shocker not too long ago.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Keith Thurman Interview

Keith Thurman is a man on a mission. On a mission to prove that he’s the best amateur welterweight in the nation. On a mission to prove he deserves to represent his country at the 2008 Olympics. Just speaking with him I can hear the conviction in his voice. He’s carrying his gym, his coach, and possibly all of St. Petersburg on his back and he’s not going to let anything get in his way for his date with destiny. Not Charles Hatley, not Demetrius Andrade and certainly not Tropical Storm Erin. Keith Thurman is coming Houston and he’s bringing his right hand and unconquerable spirit.

Just earlier today Keith and Coach Getty were stranded at the hotel as Erin raked across Houston. All amped up, and no place to go. But judging by his disposition this is just a tiny blip on a trip that he could only sum up as “incredible” mentioning as well the “great gym and great sparring.” In what is likely his last tournament as an amateur the kid is enjoying the ride.

For those of you that don’t know him Keith trains at St. Pete Boxing under Ben Getty. The heavy-handed righty has already made the rounds touching gloves with guys like Jeff Lacy, Winky Wright, Antwun Nichols and up and comer Francisco Bojado. In company like that there is knowledge to be gleaned from every punch.

The young boxer has been so dedicated to his craft, and you can hear it when you speak to him, that he had to shelf school to focus on his dream. A dream he’s been pursuing since he started training at seven years old.

Inevitably some people will read that and shake their heads disapprovingly but who doesn’t look back on missed opportunities once they reach middle age? Why not put everything you have into achieving that which you want most? You can’t argue with the results he’s getting.

He sums it up himself best, “This is what I do.”

I mentioned earlier the conviction in his voice but what I left out was the humility. Not manufactured but pure humility that only someone laying their heart and soul on the line can truly achieve. This is why Ben Getty speaks about his pupil with such warmth and confidence, I’m sure. And Getty has been around, working with guys like Olympian Ken Gould and Sugar Ray Leonard.

When asked what fight he was most looking forward to in Houston it wasn’t Boyd Melson who beat him earlier this year in what he calls his toughest loss, a fight in which Melson managed to tie the fight late and eke out a victory in the overtime session. No petty grudges here. Thurman has his eye on the prize, he wants Charles Hatley; the number one prospect at welterweight who Keith says is “just an all-around strong fighter.” He speaks of his previous fight with the young boxer from Dallas in reverent tones saying how it was a war they both fought their hearts out in and it was just a great fight to be involved with.

In this day of spoiled professional athletes it is the amateurs that remind us of why we love sports. Listening to him talk I couldn’t help mentioning the knowledge he displays about his craft and again Thurman’s humility shines through in his response.

“Bottom line you just got to hit the other guy more than he hits you.”

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Ragin' on 'roids

The biggest threat to mixed-martial arts has changed. No longer is it holier-than-thou types barking about how vicious it is or how it’s “human cockfighting”. I think we’ve turned that corner. Not a bit too soon either if you ask me. Fighting is universal, always has been. Is it brutal and painful at times? Yes, but these guys choose to do it. Some people apparently cannot grasp the concept that someone would feel a need push themselves, to see how far they can go and that they would be willing to push through some pain to get there. These selfsame people then go to work where they push their productivity to the maximum. In the big picture it’s kind of funny. Somewhere Friedrich Nietzsche is smirking in his grave.

Today’s hazard is the fighters themselves. These steel jawed duelists push themselves to the limit everyday in training so that when fight time comes they can open their hearts and pour every bit of themselves at their opponent in the hopes that time will prove that they had just a little bit more than he did. I respect that more than I could possibly convey to you guys. Fortunately, since you are reading this, you are more than likely a fight fan and if that’s the case then I am pretty sure you get it. Whew.

The threat comes from the fact that some of these guys are willing to do anything to get what they want. Relentless determination is to be prized but without integrity to shine a light on the proper path you wind up being the villain in your own story rather than the hero.

I can empathize a little. Who wants to put every ounce of themselves into something like this and find out they came just one iota short. What could possibly be more indicative of what you have inside you then a fight? It’s probably difficult to have to say to yourself, or someone else, “I just didn’t have what it took.” Really what else can you say? It’s mano e mano in that cage. Either you pull it off or you don’t, right? I’m sure a lot of these guys cringe more at that thought, and the stinging words of their detractors, more than they do at the prospect of eating a right hand from a guy sitting on their chest.

Dana White, head of the UFC, recently had an interview with ESPN the Magazine about this very issue in which he states bluntly that he would be hitting the fighters where it hurts, right in the wallet. Fail a drug screening and watch your purse dwindle down to the bare minimum. He makes reference to the Stephan Bonnar scenario where a fighter is put out of the UFC for a time and I quote, “
don't make any money.”

My reaction is two-fold. Kudos, for stepping things up. This is a real issue and could effect the integrity of the whole UFC. If fans think things are set up then the interest in the fights becomes next to zilch. What about the other fighters? The guys that legitimately want to see how they stack up. Man to man, not man to chemically-enhanced man. It’s cheating plain and simple. Getting an advantage that the other cannot (legally) obtain is cheating. It was enough for Tim Sylvia to lose his belt a few years ago and rightfully so.

Now for the other side of the coin. Is a paycut enough to stop these guys? Stephan Bonnar was indeed out of the UFC for a while and I am positive lost significant money because of that. But let’s be realistic, he was working other shows around the country. Maybe not fighting but he’s getting paid just to show up. He still made money as a “pro athlete”.

Look at UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk who tested positive after his dominant performance over Hermes Franca, who also tested positive, at the end of the day he’s still the champion of the largest MMA promotion, in the fastest growing sport in the U.S. Take away any hidden bonuses and maybe even his bonus for winning and you still have a guy who is making money from sponsorship deals, appearances and all sorts of lucrative, or semi-lucrative, engagements.

He gets a pay-cut but keeps his belt. Haven’t we learned anything from the bigger sports? Will our sport soon be overrun with chemically enhanced, freakishly athletic wanna-be warriors who are looking for the money and could care less about the spirit of the game? I’m not saying Sherk is this sort of creature, don’t get me wrong. He’s a guy who has put in his time and I have a lot of respect for him. That being said, it’s as simple as the fact that the NSAC has a sample of his urine that is beyond the limit therefore making him guilty until, and unless, he can prove otherwise. I understand that he is working to do just that and if he’s innocent then I hope he’s proven out and vindicated. For the time being though he’s a guy who doped. One of a burgeoning trend, and probably the highest profile guy at that.

In a fight to prove who was the better fighter (it just seems wrong in this case to say the stronger) he, probably more than any other MMA fighter ever, won by sheer power. He had the strength and explosiveness to shoot in and wrestle his opponent to the mat and then bodily control him for five rounds. That was it. That was how he won the fight and he cheated to get that power, that explosion. The likelihood that Sherk could have done these things without the ‘roids is pretty solid if you ask me but I really don’t think its possible for anyone that uses steroids to rely on them quite as heavily as what the champ did in his last win.

Does that deserve a belt?