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.
Though not necessarily part of the televised broadcast, “Hunt 4 UFC” is a terrific idea the company has been implementing over the past year and one which was in overdrive on Saturday night. If you aren’t already familiar with it, “Hunt 4 UFC” is a promotion the organization runs during events, through Twitter, where fans can follow online clues in hopes of winning free merchandise like tickets, autographs, and T-Shirts. Joey Beltran, who didn’t necessarily have any specific items to give away, even offered to buy free candy for the first person who mentioned it to him at the theater where he was watching UFC 121.
I understand there’s likely a profit-driven, marketing component involved based on the buzz it creates, but I also recognize and appreciate the fact the UFC is giving something back to those who support the service they provide. To do so is a testament to the fan-friendly nature of Mixed Martial Artists who, in my experience, are among the most-approachable, genuinely nice professional athletes out there. My feeling is that Dana White, like so many fighters, can empathize with fans because they aren’t too far-removed from the label themselves. After all, have you ever heard about Roger Goodell telling football enthusiasts to meet him somewhere for fifty free tickets or creating a phone number for fans to get a hold of him at certain periods of time (like White has)?
As much criticism as the Father of the F-Bomb rightfully gets he deserves comparable credit when he goes above-and-beyond the call of duty as UFC President. Such is the case when it comes to “Hunt 4 UFC”, especially when looking at some of the memorabilia given away a few nights ago (gloves signed by Stephan Bonnar, Kurt Pellegrino, Dominick Cruz, Shane Carwin, and Brock Lesnar for example), and so I thought the contest/concept deserved a “shout out” in case it went unnoticed.
Though nothing official has been announced, and anything is possible, I suspect Gilbert Yvel will likely be released by the UFC in the next few weeks (if not days). His loss to Jon Madsen was a reminder of his inability to cope against opponents with above-average grappling skills. The 34-year-old’s chin isn’t particularly durable, as he’s been finished by strikes three of the last five times he’s fought (1-4 overall), and his striking isn’t elite-enough to dismantle relevant opposition. Neither of those qualities bode well for someone who makes his living with stand-up, especially when it comes to maintaining employment in the world’s top MMA promotion.
If cut from the roster, Yvel shouldn’t have a problem finding a home in Strikeforce or bouncing around between Japan, smallish “Insert Initials Here” events, and maybe even a Bellator Super-Fight against Eddie Sanchez. The Dutchman still has some gas in the tank – he just doesn’t have the other parts in his engine to compete inside the Octagon anymore.
Canadian Becomes a Mount-ee
There’s been speculation on whether Patrick Cote might also be on his way out of the UFC after failing to stop Tom Lawlor’s ground-based assault, but I personally hope his immediate future relates to the Octagon rather than residing in a different promotion.
While he may have lost his last three match-ups, his loss to Anderson Silva was injury-related (even though I do remember feeling like Silva was toying with him at points in the fight rather than actually trying to finish things). He then sat on the sidelines for eighteen months while rehabbing his knee and caught Alan Belcher, both a tough and well-rounded opponent, in his return bout. From my perspective those defeats are understandable.
However, I’ll admit I was baffled by his inability to stop Lawlor’s takedowns or work his way out of bad positions on the mat. I noticed Lawlor attacked his knee and it made me wonder if Cote is still lacking a bit of confidence in its stability as he’s only fought twice since October 2008. If he’s still questioning whether or not it might give out, the split-second difference in reaction time involved could easily affect his overall performance inside the ring.
As far as what the UFC should do as opposed to releasing Cote, I’d love to see the Canadian striker square off against Michael Bisping, with whom he shares a mutual dislike of one another on a personal level, but I know it’s unlikely given their opposite positions on the contendership spectrum. Depending on Cote’s health or impending medical suspension, Brian Stann – who may be without an opponent at UFC 125 in January based on Chris Leben’s arrest for suspicion of DUI – would also be an interesting option if available since he’s a stand-up friendly foe. Regardless, I think “The Predator” deserves at least one more scrap in the Octagon after his success prior to the Silva loss and his potential for entertainment when paired against the right person.
Found in Translation
UFC 121 was the first time I remember hearing a Portuguese translator providing insight into what a Brazilian’s corner was saying (as was the case when the feed cut to Gabriel Gonzaga’s corner during his fight with Brendan “Missing a Silent ‘H'” Schaub). With the number of Brazilians in the UFC, especially those competing at a high-level, it makes sense for the company to have a professional on hand to break down what is being said who also doesn’t have a vested interest in the athletes. If it wasn’t a debuting feature it’s certain a new one, as well as an aspect of the broadcast I definitely enjoyed and hope to take place during future events. I would love to see the concept utilized regardless of the language involved, as it adds an appropriate, informative dynamic to the show and seems both cost-efficient and easy to do given the number of multi-lingual people residing in the United States.
Please Hamill, Don’t Hurt Em!
Though entering the event I thought Tito Ortiz would find a way to out-point Matt Hamill and win, I wasn’t caught completely off-guard by “The Hammer” pulling out a victory over his former Ultimate Fighter coach. What did drop my jaw an inch or two, however, was the convincing manner in which he handled Ortiz on the mat. I honestly can’t remember an opponent dominating the former 205-pound champion on the wrestling front like that since Randy Couture spanked his way into my heart at UFC 44. Hamill will likely continue to struggle against high-level strikers due to his age and present development, but outside of offering polished stand-up his combination of power, takedowns, and a rock-solid chin should continue make him a tough test for anyone he faces.
As far as Ortiz, I think calls for his retirement are premature even though he hasn’t won a fight since 2006. First, consider the level of opposition he’s faced over that less-than memorable run. Forrest Griffin, Chuck Liddell, Lyoto Machida, and Rashad Evans are former UFC light heavyweight title-holders, while Hamill was simply a little better at all the things Ortiz thrives on for victory (takedowns, ground-control, and basic striking).
Ortiz has also been fairly inactive for the past four years with an equivalent number of bouts to his credit. Given his injuries, as well as personal issues at home, it’s hard to fault “The Huntington Beach Not-Quite-as-Bad-as-He-Used-to-Be Boy” for rusting over a little in the process. With a few favorable match-ups against mid-tier opposition, and more time to return to consistent competition, and I think he can absolutely put together a string of wins. It’s not as if he’s being knocked out left-and-right by relative greenhorns – in fact, he hasn’t been finished by anyone other than Liddell in more than a decade – so why would it be time for Tito to call it quits?
A Veggie’s Tale
Jake Shields was far from impressive in his decision-win over Martin Kampmann but, as always, it’s important to approach the situation while maintaining some perspective. Kampmann is an extremely underrated grappler who has yet to be submitted in twenty-one professional fights. It was also Shields first fight at 170 pounds in two years so I suspect his body struggled as a result of the drop after having adjusted to middleweight. The odds were always against Shields tapping Kampmann out or attempting to stand with a superiorly-skilled striker. Considering of those factors, as far as I see it, the result should have been as shocking as the notion of Arianny Celeste looking incredible in Playboy.
For folks arguing against Shields’ jumping Jon Fitch as the division’s top contender, I agree in the sense the former Strikeforce middleweight champ has done less in the Octagon than Fitch, but from an overall standpoint I think it’s still fairly clear Shields is still the better choice no matter how many yawns he helped induce during the UFC 121 broadcast.
He hasn’t lost in six years while beating a number of top welterweights, as well as 185-pounders, along the way. The Gracie-trained Californian also provides a fresh match-up for Georges St. Pierre and would having no hesitation facing Josh Koscheck if he beats GSP in December as opposed to Fitch (who is Koscheck’s teammate at American Kickboxing Academy). Let’s also not forget Fitch provided little threat to St. Pierre for the twenty-five minutes they fought in 2008 and hasn’t finished an opponent in three-and-a-half years, so it isn’t as though his in-ring performances as a whole have been any more exciting or convincing than Shields’.
MMA’s Best Bud
Whether you love or hate Joe Rogan’s commentary you can rarely if ever fault his integrity on the microphone. What he says he believes, and while he draws a fat Zuffa paycheck every month he is by no means a promotional shill. Rogan is very open about his support of Mixed Martial Arts and its athletes even when it means turning a sliver of the spotlight on a competitor’s organization. Whether expressing appreciation for Fedor Emelianenko, Eddie Alvarez, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, or any number of non-UFC fighters, Rogan never shies away from letting fans see the whole picture as opposed to the one where counter-programming is “good” for the sport.
Case in point where UFC 121 is concerned, look at his acknowledgement of Gilbert Melendez being in Shields’ corner at the event. Not only did Rogan mention Melendez’s presence, he included “Strikeforce lightweight champion” rather than leaving the check blank at Melendez simply being “one of the top 155-pounders in the sport.” I thought it was a classy, appropriate move he was by no means obligated to do and as such he deserves to be commended for the gesture.
The Cain Event
The topic of Cain Velasquez’s title-win over Brock Lesnar is deep enough to deserve its own article, as there are a million angles to take ranging from what it means for Hispanic people, let alone to the rest of the heavyweight division, to how Lesnar will respond after receiving what was likely the first ass-kicking of his life (and it came at the hands of someone he outweighed by forty pounds) to the affect Lesnar’s loss will have from a financial/buyrate perspective.
I think Lesnar will bounce-back fine from the TKO and I assume the bitter taste it likely left in his mouth will drive him to get better rather than cause him to question his line of work. To fully reach his potential, in my opinion, Lesnar needs to branch out from his compound in Minnesota if he wants to develop as a complete Mixed Martial Artist. Surrounding yourself with hand-picked partners, none of which are truly elite, in a building you own likely leads to some excellent workouts and practice sessions but I don’t think it provides the correct atmosphere for learning to the full extent possible. Among other reasons, Velasquez was superior to Lesnar on Saturday night because he trains with world-class partners and a slew of instructors who are certified specialists in multiple areas. He comes in to work as a member of the team, not as the proverbial patriarch of it. There’s also a rumor floating around in cyberspace about Lesnar’s head supposedly being off-limits during sparring sessions but I have no idea how reality-based it is so take that for what its worth.
As far as the UFC’s new champ, I have a feeling Velasquez will be holding onto the belt for awhile as long as he utilizes his grappling to get by Junior dos Santos’ striking when they face off in the coming months. I was blown away by his speed, precision, and the fact he took Lesnar down with relative ease. The closest he’s been to exposure was suffering a pair of knockdowns against Cheick Kongo only to rebound in brilliant fashion en route to a convincing victory. If Dos Santos can’t catch him on the chin then expect Velasquez to maintain his unbeaten streak for at least a year, if not longer.
On an unrelated note, if you were wondering about the hand-signs Velasquez flashed to the camera after pounding Lesnar out, take off your tin-foil hat as it had nothing to do with “Brown Pride” or any ridiculous rumors of gang-related affiliation. The gesture is related to his status as an Arizona State alumnus and is something fellow ASU Sun Devils Ryan Bader and CB Dollaway have done in the past as well after emerging victorious in a bout.