The following will in no way be a breakdown of bouts, but rather moments, both good and bad, that stood out to me. In each “Eight-Point Stance” I’ll be trading the knees, elbows, fists, and feet typically associated with Muay Thai striking for commentary on a like-number of items related to a recent MMA event (or possibly multiple shows depending on the weekend). There’s also no rhyme or reason to the order in which they’re listed. In reality, the only similarity my points will have to a formal ranking is their subjective nature. Some will be serious, some will be humorous – all will involve a major dose of opinion.
If MMA was assigned a theme song the most appropriate selection wouldn’t involve a slick lyricist delivering sixteen bars or an angry male screaming – it would be Janet Jackson’s “What Have You Done for Me Lately?” Fighters are often judged for their most-recent showing rather than how they’ve consistently performed over the years. Likewise, cards are criticized based on how the collective match-ups making the broadcast turn out. UFC 120’s main card featured four decisions out of five total bouts. UFC 119’s mirrored the statistic and was a minute away from being 5-for-5 until Frank Mir’s knee left Mirko “Cro Cop” KTFO’d, i.e. knocked the Filipovic out.
Is this a matter for concern? Some people would say yes. I am not among them. Though it may feel like the ratio of decisions/finishes is skewed towards the scorecards, especially when you add WEC results into the equation, it’s important to maintain perspective. For every decision-riddled card there will be an event where 8-9 fights make the cut due to an inordinate number of submissions/TKOs. Also, keep in mind a decision isn’t always a bad thing unless stained by poor judging. There have been plenty of exciting full-frame wars, and frankly I occasionally prefer to see a back-and-forth battle than three months of hype wrapped up in a minute.
Don’t expect the frequency to change for the “better” either. As the skill-levels of Mixed Martial Artists continue to balance out with the growth of the sport you’re likely to see more evenly-matched pairings. The number of fighters specializing in a single discipline will likely decrease in the next 5-10 years and be replaced by well-rounded individuals who can compete regardless of where the bout’s action takes place. Also, as money increases you’re likely to see fighters taking less risks against opponents based on what a win can mean for their long-term financial security.
Walk This Way
Is there currently a better walk down to the ring in MMA than Akiyama’s? Save for BJ Penn’s tribal trot, and perhaps the occasional appearance of Akihiro Gono’s “DJ Gozma”, I can think of no entrance more-memorable than Akiyama’s combination of Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to Say Goodbye” and show of respect/unity amongst his team. It’s a routine I’ve yet to get tired of seeing and one his professional peers could learn from.
The 30-45 seconds it takes to get from backstage to the cage provide valuable time for marketing, hence why fighters wear sponsor-laden merchandise while making the march. Rather than hyping a clothing line, Mixed Martial Artists can also promote themselves in the sense an entertaining entrance gets fans talking and separates an individual from the crowd of standard entrances. The more people interested in seeing a fighter, the bigger the future opportunities are likely to be.
Prior to the event, if you’d told me the most-exciting Brit coming out of UFC 120 wouldn’t be Michael Bisping, Dan Hardy, or John Hathaway there’s a good chance I would have guffawed like Goofy on whippets. However, you would have been right in saying so, as again the unpredictable nature of MMA reared its beautiful head and introduced the viewing public to 22-year old Paul Sass instead of more-established stars. Sass’ submission of Mark Holst brought his record to 11-0 with ten tap-outs to his credit, nine of which have been first-round finishes.
Also victorious at the event was heavyweight Rob “It’s Already Been” Broughton (unfortunately not yet his official nickname). Broughton’s successful UFC debut was his fifth consecutive victory from an overall perspective and the third submission of his current run. With their success and potential, it seems the UFC could have a few new budding stars to thrill fans in the UK with, not to mention the rest of us on this side of the pond.
For people who complained before, during, and after the show – keep in mind it was a free UFC event on Spike TV. You’ll hear me preach perspective on more than one occasion in these pieces, and having an opportunity to enjoy a card a super-star away from costing $44.95 is one we should al be thankful for. The co-headlining bouts were both entertaining, there was a significant upset in terms of Mike Pyle teaching previously undefeated Hathaway a lesson in grappling, and Sass’ submission opened a lot of eyes. Next weekend there is a card stacked with ranked talent and known names, including perhaps the biggest of them all (Brock Lesnar). I think it’s fair to say UFC 121 is the “main attraction” this month, so why complain about the free previews before the lights dim and the show starts?
Is John Hathaway overrated? Is Mike Pyle underrated? I think the answer to both of those questions is currently “no”, though of course it’s impossible to predict the future and time could certainly influence the response whenever either of the two steps back into the ring. Rather, I think Pyle’s upset-win over the previously undefeated youngster was more indicative of the match-up of their styles (and experience) rather than a particularly positive/negative reflection of either’s overall ability.
Pyle is a terrific grappler whose nickname is “Quicksand” for a reason (16 of his 20 total victories coming by submission being one of them). Hathaway hadn’t faced an opponent with Pyle’s overall skill on the mat prior to UFC 120 and clearly wasn’t prepared to deal with it based on his struggles at the event. While Hathaway may have dominated Diego Sanchez, another good wrestler/BJJer, in his previous bout, Sanchez is smaller than Pyle and was competing at 170-pounds for the first time in two years when the two fought at UFC 114. On the other hand, Pyle is also 3-2 in his last five outings and tends to excel against wrestlers/strikers based on his method of attack. Hathaway fell into that category, hence the decision win…which arguably would have been a second-round TKO based on unanswered strikes had the bout taken place in the United States.
Hathaway looked bad, and Pyle looked good, but I’ll need to see more of the same from both before I’m ready to label either based on their UFC 120 bout simply because of how their styles stacked up.
The time has come for the UFC to part ways with Cheick Kongo. A few years ago he looked like a possible title-contender but on the cusp of 2011 things are looking vastly different. Kongo hasn’t beaten a relevant heavyweight since Mirko Filipovic more than three years ago. Since 2009 he’s taken out Antoni Hardonk and Paul Buentello with a pair of losses and the ugly draw – which should have been a win for opponent Travis Browne based on the fight I saw – at UFC 120. He’s a 35-year old striker with poor defense, questionable cardio, and who is seemingly stagnant from a development standpoint. Letting the Frenchman explore his options in Strikeforce or elsewhere could lead to a few wins helping re-kindle his career, and if he’s only moderately successful outside of the Octagon then no harm done to the UFC, as they will have cut some of the proverbial fat while also opening up a spot for a younger heavyweight to step up.
Condit Can Do It!
Critics of Carlos Condit questioning how his talent would stack up against the UFC’s when WEC folded their 170-pounders into the parent-promotion got their answer in London when he handed Dan Hardy the only knockout loss of his 31-fight, six-year MMA career. The win was the third consecutive victory for the “Natural Born Killer” since first entering the Octagon, and brought his record to 11-1 over his last twelve bouts with the lone loss being a split-decision defeat to talented, “Top 10” welterweight Martin Kampmann.
When asked by media about who he hoped to face next, Condit requested the winner of Kampmann’s upcoming bout against the debuting Jake Shields. However, I’m fairly certain Shields will get a crack at the winner of George St. Pierre’s title-defense against Josh Koscheck before Condit works his way into the mix, though a rematch with Kampmann would make sense if he pulls off an upset and beats the former Strikeforce middleweight champ this weekend at UFC 121. If Shields does emerge victorious against the “Hitman”, I think it’s likely Condit will fight Jon Fitch next to either eliminate or cement the American Kickboxing Academy front-man’s status as top contender in the welterweight division (possibly on the UFC’s Superbowl Weekend card). Taking Fitch out wouldn’t necessarily be enough to put Condit in a championship-bout himself, but it would absolutely put him within a single win’s grasp of the opportunity.
Regardless of how the above-scenario unfolds, Condit has proven himself to be a threat no matter where his fights take place. He has excellent grappling, crisp, multi-faceted striking, knockout power, and top notch conditioning. He has been in championship fights and understands the pressure involved in larger match-ups. Condit also seems to have enough intelligence to maintain poise in the line of fire rather than giving up on a game-plan. He may never win a UFC championship, but I’ll be absolutely shocked if the 26-year old doesn’t compete for one at some point in the next few years.
Time to Say Goodbye…to Middleweight
A number of months ago I wrote an article about fighters who would benefit from a change in weight-class. Yoshihiro Akiyama was among the group mentioned. Standing 5’10, he’s one of the shortest 185-pounders on the UFC’s roster and has struggled thus far to out-class opponents a step below the division’s best. For reference, Akiyama lost once in the four years preceding his deal with the UFC. Since signing he’s dropped two of his last three bouts.
My understanding is that Akiyama isn’t into shedding pre-fight pounds based on tradition, as cutting weight isn’t a standard practice in the Far East (even Europe) and has more of a historical association with American wrestling rather than regional disciplines like Judo or Jiu-Jitsu. However, while he may have been able to get away with it in Japan/Korea based on his peers approaching competition in a similar manner, in the UFC a huge percentage of the roster enters the cage 15-25 pounds above the number they clocked in at a day before.
In order to make a serious run at a championship, or at least emerge from the UFC with his reputation intact, Akiyama has to change his weight-cutting ways. He was able to hang with Michael Bisping – a former light heavyweight mind you – so imagine the possibilities if “Sexyama” actually fought opponents his own size.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC