UFC at the ACC

December 12, 2011

Fight Night, UFC 140 Round-up Style:

1. Featherweight bout: Canada Mark Hominick vs. South Korea Chan Sung Jung [Jung defeated Hominick via KO (punches) at 0:07 of round 1].

Mark Hominick is best remembered for his performance at UFC 129 in April of 2011, the first ever UFC night in Toronto. People remember him for the heart he showed, and that enormous welt on his head that the other guy gave him. Unfortunately, this fight is best described by Canadian Mark Hominick’s words after the fight, “I’m sorry.” Chan Sung Jung, known as “The Korean Zombie,” knocked Hominick out in seven seconds. That ties the record for the fastest fight in UFC history. In an effort to pay respects to Canadian customs, “The Korean Zombie” also apologized.

2. Welterweight bout: Canada Claude Patrick vs. United States Brian Ebersole [Ebersole defeated Patrick via split decision (29–28, 28–29, 29–28)].

Ebersole employed heavy doses of “dirty boxing.” This is easily the least exciting tactic I’ve seen. Hey, I’m just going to lean up against you and sneak in punches here and there, but mainly I’m not going to let you do anything. Usually fighters use it to get something, but Ebersole was just cool with the leaning and the minimal action. This bout was littered with failure, making it difficult to judge. Ebersole repeatedly failed to take down Patrick. Patrick’s countless attempts at choking Ebersole were to no avail. The Canadian Claude Patrick lost the split decision.

3. Light Heavyweight bout: United States Tito Ortiz vs. Brazil Antônio Rogério Nogueira [Nogueira defeated Ortiz via TKO (strikes to the body) at 3:15 of round 1].

A dude sitting near us was unnecessarily loud when cheering for Tito Ortiz. Everyone at the bar had to listen to him explain to his girlfriend why Ortiz is so fantastic. Apparently, it was Ortiz’ upper body. Antônio Rogério Nogueira has a twin brother whose fight would follow. Nogueira knocked Ortiz down and stayed on top of him for a good minute, where he pounded on the ribs (upper body) of Ortiz. Likely after a few broken ribs, the ref stopped the fight. Dude was much quieter after that.

4. Heavyweight bout: United States Frank Mir vs. Brazil Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira [Mir defeated Nogueira via submission (kimura) at 3:38 of round 1].

The other twin, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, fought Frank Mir next. It is startling how similar his name is to his twin brother’s. It is safe to say that their parents probably dressed them the same for a prolonged period of time. This fight was spectacular. Nogueira had control of the fight, knocking Mir off balance and taking him to the ground. Mir took the punches and manoeuvred out of several different holds, to somehow emerge from all the grappling with Nogueira’s arm in a compromising position. Mir proceeded to snap Nogueira’s arm, ending the fight. The UFC broadcast couldn’t help but show the arm break, over and over again. People stopped looking at the monitors that circled the bar.

5. Light Heavyweight Championship bout: United States Jon Jones (c) vs. Brazil Lyoto Machida [Jones defeated Machida via technical submission (guillotine choke) at 4:26 of round 2].

Jones enjoyed a 10-½ inch reach advantage over Machida. Everything Machida did was described as “karate-like.” Machida had been studying Karate since he was 3. Machida’s quickness allowed him to get close to Jones, land blows, and still duck any counterpunches. Jones kept his composure. In the second round, Jones forced Machida to the ground and pinned him down long enough to land an elbow in Machida’s forehead. The gash on Machida’s head was so big that they paused the fight to let the doctor’s examine the injury.

When the fight resumed, Jones knocked Machida down while simultaneously taking a blow himself. That was the difference in the fight. When Jones landed his punches, it would hurt Machida. But Machida wasn’t hurting Jones. With Machida still wobbly, Jones punched and kicked Machida to the wall of the cage. Jones sneaked into a chokehold and it took the ref a long time to realize Machida was no longer resisting. The ref told Jones to let go and Machida’s body parts fell on top of each other with gravity holding them together.

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/

Advertisements

The Boxing Diary

November 13, 2011

Summer of 2010:

“Manny Pacquiao. Man-Neee…Pack-Keee-Yaa. Manny Pacquiao,” he kept saying the name but I didn’t recognize it. My friend then told me Pacquiao had a record of 51 wins, 3 losses and 2 draws, and that he is considered as one of the top fifty boxers of all time. I asked him the obvious question: Didn’t we, as a society, stop thinking boxing was important around the time when Don King ran out of ways to invent hype?

I’m not trying to be irreverent. I grew up on ESPN classics, from the epic heavyweight triangle (Foreman – Ali – Frazier), to Sugar Ray Leonard, to No Mas, to the utter domination of Mike Tyson. But boxing lost its casual fan fare when Mike Tyson got out of jail to fight some chump named McNeely and what was the most hyped fight in years turned out to be the production of Don King’s imagination. Tyson proceeded to lose to Holyfield, bit the ear, and the rest is very boring history. More than that, boxing never bothered to anticipate or even acknowledge competition from its more primal counterpart: Ultimate Fighting.

—–flashback to July 2007——–

You should watch this 60 minutes video on the emergence of Mixed Martial Arts (or Ultimate Fighting) for three reasons:

  • I find it fascinating that the sport struggled to gain popularity on television because it was too bloody. So they gave it some rules, added some padding and a scoring system and suddenly gruesome fighting became a legitimate sport. The reality is even when there were no rules, the best fighters (Royce Gracie) were the best because they were technically fantastic, not because the lack of rules favoured them. The rule changes aren’t for the fighters – they’re for us so we can draw that line between savageness and civility.
  • Dana White and his partners put $2 million into UFC and now it’s potentially worth a billion. He scoffs at Fox for not recognizing the potential because he made more money on pay per view. Last night, Fox showed the feature UFC fight on regular cable TV for the first time. Fox probably paid Dana White several times more than what he was initially asking years ago, when they rejected him.
  • It features one of the legendary Gracie brothers, and you will hear a story that will tell you exactly why this family is legendary.

——————————

November 2010

60 minutes was featuring Manny Pacquiao. He is not only considered the best boxer in the game, but he’s an idol to his people, an aspiring politician and a musician (but a musician in the same way Shaquille O’Neal was a rapper). It’s clear there has never been a boxer like him and that I really like 60 minutes.

October 2011

I keeping seeing the same poster: Manny Pacquiao v. Juan Martel Marquez III. They’ve fought twice before, with Manny winning once and the other fight a draw. Marquez clearly has what it takes to beat Manny. This third fight is expected to be decisive, since they are both strategically and physically familiar with each other. The best boxer should emerge.

November 12, 2011 – Fight Night

6:00 pm – I text Steve and ask him if he’s briefed on the Pacquiao fight. He tells me that this is the third time that they are meeting. I’m not impressed since it says that on the poster.

10:00pm – The bar is standing room only, everyone’s rooting for Manny and HBO makes a connection between Manny’s national background, Joe Frasier’s recent death and the “Thrilla in Manilla,” a legendary boxing match between Frasier and Ali. I imagine how amazing it would have been to have watched boxing during that era: Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Larry Holmes and Joe Frasier (compact and explosive, the original Tyson). Nobody can doubt that Manny, all his fame, what he does for his country and his pop-star qualities are good for boxing. But what boxing currently lacks is talent in the heavyweight division. That’s the sort of thing that draws even the casual fan. I would describe the current state of boxing as track and field in the Olympics, but without the 100m dash.

Midnight-ish: They went to the judges after twelve full rounds. It was a decision that the vegas crowd booed, I questioned and Steve shrugged at. Marquez laughed to himself, as if to say, “how many times do I have to beat this guy in order win the fight?” The announcers explained that the judges awarded Pacquiao the decision because he threw and landed more punches, which was true. But when Marquez landed punches, they were packed with power. Stylistically, Marquez wasn’t a lead-with-my-jab kind of guy like Manny. Marquez was a counter-puncher, and apparently boxing’s scoring system doesn’t discriminate when it comes to punches. I’m thinking boxing needs some kind of conversion ratio, like every three jabs equals one cross. Would there be no sudden death overtime? Are they going to schedule a fourth fight now? We left the bar not quite sure about what we had seen.

Somewhere else during the Pacquiao fight: Cain Velasquez, the existing heavyweight UFC champion put his title on the line against Junior Dos Santos. The UFC’s heavyweight division has been extremely competitive for several years now. A minute into the fight, Dos Santos landed a vicious sweeping right cross and knocked out Valasquez, to become the new UFC heavyweight champion. People who saw that fight weren’t confused about what they had seen.

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/


A Different Kind of Champion

September 25, 2011

They say that you aren’t really a champion until you defend your title. The light-heavyweight division of the UFC has seen several different champions in the past few years. Since 2007, all but two fighters lost their championships immediately after winning it, a testament to the strength of competition in this weight class. UFC 135 featured yet another fresh champion, Jon “Bones” Jones, defend his title against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Rampage is one of the former champions that didn’t lose his title immediately after winning it.

Steve and I had basically taken the summer off from watching the UFC (and to be honest, so did the UFC, based on the fight cards they produced). As a rule, we don’t miss fights that involve Jon Jones. I like to compare our enthusiasm for watching the 24-year-old Jones emerge as a champion to what people must’ve felt watching a young Cassius Clay or Mike Tyson. Winners come and go, but there’s a feeling that we haven’t seen someone win like this before.

One of the earlier matches involved two heavyweights who were completely gassed by the second round. Both fighters had troubles lifting their arms up in the air, just to throw a punch. After Steve and I stopped laughing, it occurred to us that the training leading up to this fight was critical. They were in the mile-high city where the air was thinner. This was a title shot, which meant instead of three rounds it would be five. Endurance would matter. Steve mentioned that Rampage Jackson’s training facility was reminiscent of the Russian’s from Rocky IV. If you recall the training montage, the Russian had a technologically superior program while Rocky roamed the Russian wilderness to workout with wood, snow, a trainer who would not stop chanting “no pain,” all the while being spied on by the KGB, as they tried to crack the code of the relentless American spirit in vain.

Jones is a young champion and defending championships takes maturity and experience. He had never faced someone with the power of Rampage Jackson. Our anticipation peaked moments before the main event, during the stare down when Rampage scowled and growled into Jon Jones’ eyes without so much as blinking. Jones simply stared at the ground, solemn and quiet.

The bell rang and Jones started the fight on his hands and knees. He crawled towards Rampage, staying on the ground, swiping with his ten-inch reach advantage at Jackson’s legs, trying to pull him down. The move didn’t work but it was telling. Rampage, a self-proclaimed pit bull, was pensive during a moment when his opponent sat vulnerable on his hands and knees. Despite how young and unproven Jones was as a champion, he clearly demanded respect. Beyond that, nobody could make sense of why Jones would do that.

Most of the fighting was done standing up, which was to Rampage’s advantage. But Jones set the pace with a full arsenal of  lanky leg kicks, swinging elbows, jabs, hooks, and flying crosses. Jones rarely had to come near Rampage to land these kicks and punches because of an unearthly reach advantage. When Rampage gathered himself, he came at Jones with vicious swings. Jones got more comfortable dodging the bag of bricks. He was seeing the punches in slow motion. By the end of the first round, Jones realized he could leave himself vulnerable and trust his reaction to get his head out of the way.

Jones won each of the first three rounds standing up, and like all of his fights, took his opponent down whenever he felt like it. But if Jones was going to finish Rampage, it was happening on the mat.

If this were boxing, Rampage would have to get close to Jones and punch the daylights out of him to win. But unlike boxing, the threat of the takedown changes how you strike someone. If you miss your punch or kick, you’re left momentarily off-balance. Your opponent can take you down, which opens you up to a variety of chokes and submission holds. Even when you’re down, getting up the wrong way can leave you open to arm/leg/neck locks that lead to submission. Reaction time is a big part of all fighting. But in UFC, it’s also about how fast your mind races against your opponents. It’s a chess match involving your body.

It was clear in the fourth round exactly how uncomfortable Rampage was on the ground. Jones took him down. Having been in this position before, Rampage didn’t want to be on his back (in the previous round he took several elbows to the face lying on his back). But in avoiding one form of pain, he let Jones get him in a headlock. Looking back, the fight was over as soon as Jones got this hold. But Jones took his time to get the submission out of Rampage. He methodically fastened the airtight headlock around the neck. Jones then wrapped his legs around Rampage to secure leverage. He had Rampage in a choke hold and was wrapped around him completely, without a hint of hurry. We simply watched for Jones to yank a little on the lever and Rampage Jackson tapped instantly to acknowledge his submission.

After the fight, Joe Rogan asked Jon Jones about the unorthodox start from the crawling position. Apparently, Jones had had an idea the night before to fake a takedown of one leg, then switch to the other, something he was exceptional at. The kid came into the first defense of his championship with a trick play to try and end the fight almost immediately. He wasn’t concerned about the risk of Rampage giving him one swift kick or punch across the face as he knelt before his opponent to open the match.

This is a different kind of champion. Like Anderson Silva and George St. Pierre, Jones is technically brilliant and explosive. But no other champion in the UFC would start a title fight by taking such a risk. Jones has all the focus, drive and talent of a champion but shows no fear of losing what he’s already got.

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/


Fight Night: Toronto’s Debut

May 1, 2011

We managed to get tickets from scalpers* right before the main card. We ran up the ramp all the way to the nosebleeds, getting closer to the heat created by 55,000 people yelling at the top of their lungs. Immediate reactions to Toronto’s first ever UFC fight night:

Steve: This is crazy.

Ryan: Woah.

Me: I haven’t seen the Sky Dome like this since Wrestlemania 6, when the Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan for the heavyweight title.

The highlight of the night was when all six Jumbotrons took a closeup shot of Canadian Mark Hominick’s face and the crowd saw a giant baseball sized welt emerge from his head in high definition. We first reacted in disgust, then hearing how disgusted we all were, we laughed together. We did that each time they showed the bump. The cameraman zoomed in closer and continued to press our buttons.

As the fight continued, Jose Aldo continued to punch the baseball trapped inside Hominick’s forehead and Steve yelled out, “If that thing pops, it’s going to hit us all the way up here.” This gave the meatheads in the 500 section of the Sky Dome a good chuckle.

Despite the crowd’s insensitivity, we were electric when we had to be. In the fifth round of this Featherweight championship title fight, Hominick mounted the champ and began to punch him in the face. Both fighters were gassed but the crowd willed the Canadian to rise from his wounds. The electricity channeled itself into the arms of Hominick as he found the strength in his punished and beaten body to pound his opponent for the remainder of the fight. He wouldn’t allow Aldo to get up until the final bell. Despite losing the fight in a decision, Hominick fought hard for us.

The feature fight had Montreal’s George St. Pierre defend his Welterweight title against Jake Shields. This column has previously featured other champions such as Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. GSP ranks among them as a dominant force in his weight class. He rarely loses a round, let alone a fight. But there’s something distinctly Canadian about him as a fighter that separates him from other champions – he’s boring.

GSP is technically and strategically superb. He doesn’t take risks and he always wins. But his conservative style leaves his fans antsy. We want him to end the fight, rather than time to lapse and judges to make decisions. We want something definitive.

The crowd entertained itself with a few different chants while he fought. There was the one that you hear at Jays games, when there’s two strikes on a hitter, the crowd starts a slow clap that speeds up before it evaporates. Another sign of their boredom was the Olay-Olay chant usually heard at hockey games (but originally a soccer thing). Of course, being in the meathead section of Dome, a fight broke out during the GSP bout behind us. Everyone in our section was torn between watching GSP and the scuffle. Steve yelled behind us, “Can you guys just hold off for two more rounds please?”

Boring or not, GSP is our champion. Ryan noted how apologetic he is after he beats his opponent. Truly Canadian. Occasionally, he’s even sorry about his fights being boring. Once the final bell rang and GSP was declared the winner by decision, we walked out with the herd of meatheads and Steve said, “You know, even when he wins, it feels like a loss.”

*A note on scalping:

Steve and I had been tracking ticket prices since they had gone on sale. Given that they had sold out almost immediately, we presumed that scalpers had hoarded the tickets. Soon, these tickets would go on sale online in a secondary market.

Sure enough, places like Stubhub had thousands of UFC tickets for exorbitant prices. After some in-depth analysis which consisted of us basically justifying not buying those tickets at those prices, we concluded that on the night of the fight we would go with money in our pockets and find a way to get in. Again, we were right, there was a ton of tickets available for sale on the street corner.

However, while Steve and I have plenty of scalping experience, we had never scalped a ticket to a main event like this before. This was the equivalent of game 7 in the playoffs, a “must-see,” if you will. We were dealing with a sophisticated street organization.

If you had a ticket to scalp, they were on you. It was imperative that they controlled the supply, and from what we could see, they used intimidation to lowball you an offer. Scalping is their job, and the streets were their store, and chances were you being a good Canadian boy didn’t care to spend all your time making your money back.

By controlling the supply, despite having a surplus of tickets, they could control the prices. We didn’t bother negotiating. In fact, when we purchased the tickets it became obvious that one man was in control of the entire operation. Our scalper took us to him. He had papers to organize all the money and tickets floating around.

If someone controls the supply that means there is no possibility of negotiation. In fact, if you try the walk-away technique and then come back, basically telling them you were bluffing, then they can raise the price on you. They knew people came from all over Ontario and the States to watch this – and you were going to get a ticket from them, one way or another. I wanted to talk to the guy who appeared to be spearheading the entire operation but these weren’t the right circumstances.

Do you have any insights on this? Experiences? Thoughts? I’m truly interested. This secondary market is not a free market of buyers and sellers. How can they control such enormous blocks of tickets when the demand is so high? What’s the missing link? My goal is to determine how we can free this market, so we can go back to paying normal prices for events we want to go to.

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/


Jon Jones is Batman

March 23, 2011

On the way to the bar, Steve briefed me on the much anticipated feature fight for UFC 128: Jon Jones versus Shogun Rua. Shogun was the reigning light-heavyweight champion. No opponent had ever knocked him down. Steve had seen some sports-science show, where they recorded Shogun as having the hardest kick in the UFC, using all sorts of special cameras and gadgetry. Shogun is in his prime.

Jon Jones was 12 years old when his sister died. He got two tattoos in her memory, one with her name written in Chinese. When his mother found out, she immediately took him to the local Chinese restaurant and asked the lady there what the tattoo said. “Peaceful warrior.”

Jones had great expectations beyond high school, where he was the State champ in Greco Roman wrestling. On his way to College, he knocked up his girlfriend. He had to get a job to raise his new family. He then took the advice of a friend and tried out mixed martial arts. Jones has only thirteen fights under his belt, is 23 years of age, and he’s already got a shot at the title.

Through 13 bouts, no opponent had been able to take Jones down to the mat, let alone knock him down. His record was 12-1 going into this fight; the lone loss coming from a disqualification for beating his opponent up without care for the rules.

Jon Jones is Batman. On the day of the fight, Jones got out of Newark and went to a park in Paterson city to meditate when his coaches saw a burglary in progress. The thief was running with some lady’s GPS when Jones chased him down and put him in a leg lock until the police arrived.

From the opening bell, Jones came at Shogun with reverse elbows, spin-kicks, and a wide variety of moves that he clearly picked up from video games, but can get away with it because of his incredible explosiveness and a seven foot wingspan. He’s a hurricane full of fists, elbows and heels. Not only was Shogun worried about avoiding the blows, but trying to get into a wrestling match with Jones was obviously a bad idea.

When the ref stopped the fight in the third round because Jones was pounding the dead horse that was now the former champ, Steve turned to me amidst the cheers and said, “I don’t think Jones took a single punch.” After the fight, Rashad Evans was there to shake Jones’ hand. Evans is a friend of Jones’, they’ve trained together in the past, and he’s first in line for a title shot against the new champ of the light heavyweights. Evans didn’t look too excited about it.

Steve doesn’t seen anyone in the light-heavyweight class that could put a dent in Batman’s amour, and makes an interesting point that by the time Jones reaches his athletic peak, he’ll be a heavyweight.

What we’re witnessing with Jon Jones is reminiscent of what Mike Tyson did when he became the youngest heavyweight champ in boxing history. Tyson dominated the most prestigious weight class during the early eighties. He went 37-0 before losing to Buster Douglas, after which his career and personal life spiraled downward.

But Jon “Bones” Jones is the son of a preacher man. He is the peaceful warrior and the unmasked avenger. And for the next few years, he’s going to be the hottest fighting ticket in town.

 

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/


Fight Night: Anderson “The Spider” Silva

February 13, 2011

Much like you, if a raw street fight broke out anywhere near me, I would stop and watch the entire thing. Then, I would analyze it with my in-house UFC expert, Steve. If you’re interested in a column that tells you what happened on fight night, then you should probably check ESPN. If you’re interested in anything but results, then you’ve found the right place. Each fight night, something remarkable happens and it will be documented here. If you’ve never seen UFC, you should start by watching this clip.

—–UFC126—–

“That guy looks like Steven Seagal,” I said.

“No! What did you say? Which guy?” said Steve.

There was a guy hugging Anderson Silva right before he got set to fight that looked like Steven Seagal, right down to the banana peel goggles and bulging gut.  We both figured that I was mistaken. Why would someone like Anderson Silva hang out with Steven Seagal? The fighters were set: Middleweight champion Anderson Silva was to put his title on the line against Vitor Belfort.

I had never heard of Belfort before but there was plenty of hype about this fight. Steve explained that both fighters had trained together in Brazil and Vitor was at one point the light heavyweight champion. But I’m skeptical of hype since guys like Anderson Silva don’t lose. He’s touted as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world today.

I’ve seen him a few times and here’s how I would describe his strategy:

Silva waits. He’s not making the first move, you are. He’s the champ. If you don’t make a move, you’ve wasted your title shot. He doesn’t care if the crowd boos him. He’s slowly stalking the ring, waiting for you. It becomes clear that you have to do something. So you start to kick him a little, different angles, but he blocks those. Maybe you try and wrestle him to the ground. You never saw it coming but it’s over. At some point you let your guard down and he knocked you out. Nobody ever sees it coming.

Silva isn’t the most likable champion, even though he’s absolutely spectacular as a fighter. He’s definitely a bit weird. He came to the weigh-in wearing a phantom of the opera mask because the other guy implied that Silva was somewhat of a performer.

In the first round, neither Silva nor the other guy threw a punch for the first two minutes. Everyone started to boo. Steve and I shuffled around in our seats at the bar, never taking our eyes off the TV screen. The other guy got a couple of good shots in but nothing that Silva couldn’t shake off. Then, Anderson Silva gave the other guy a front kick to the face and the fight was over.

Joe Rogan, the colour commentator for all UFC events, was like, “I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYONE KNOCKED OUT LIKE THAT BEFORE! NOT JUST UFC, ANYWHERE, KICKBOXING, KUNG FU, TAE KWON-DO, KARATE, BOXING, WOMEN’S HOCKEY, FEAR FACTOR, NEVER EVER HAVE I SEEN ANYONE KNOCKED OUT LIKE THAT WITH A FRONT KICK TO THE FACE!” Steve’s currently working on why Joe Rogan feels compelled to yell all the time.

The next day, we learned that it was indeed Steven Seagal in the ring. As it turns out, Seagal’s been training with Silva for years and taught Silva the front kick that got the knockout. I can just imagine the two of them in Seagal’s basement watching Under Seige 2, with Seagal narrating the movie, “Now watch the kicks I use to defeat these twelve Chinamen that have infiltrated the ship. Did you see that? That’s what I want you to do to this guy, exactly like that.”

Silva doesn’t make any effort to speak English, which might explain why the fans always boo him. He went on for about two minutes in Portuguese at the end of the fight and the translator was like, “Basically, Vitor is a great fighter and Silva has a lot of respect for him.” I’m also skeptical about how much this translator filters out whenever Silva speaks.

In the end, the mystery of what Silva is thinking or saying is irrelevant because he’ll be remembered for that split-second where he snaps his leg out and surprises you with a Steven Seagal special.

 

–When he’s not watching grown men fight, Umar Saeed covers the endless battle between money and people on his website: www.umarsaeed.ca/