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on PRIDE 34, UFC 69 and Calzaghe/Manfredo

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"It takes a man to suffer ignorance and smile" - When I say ignorance, I mean borderline racism.

After a weekend of surprises and disappointments, the new PRIDE/UFC is upon us. Let’s take look at DSE’s funeral and a brief look at UFC 69, with a look at Calzaghe/Manfredo.

PRIDE 34: Kamikaze

DSE presented its last PRIDE event on Sunday. After the withdrawal of Wanderlei Silva due to medical suspension, what was left was an odd card that looked bottom-heavy and featured a slew of first round finishes. However, it had the feel of a funeral. Lots of PRIDE fighters, past and present, were in tearful attendance, the US feed was punctuated by old fights and thanks was given to Nobuyuki Sakakibara and it was a send off with which he seemed pleased.

First, we must open with Sakakibara’s surprise announcement during the interval that Kazushi Sakuraba would return to PRIDE and finally contest a “pro wrestling dream match” with arch rival fellow 83kg fighter and former UWF International wrestler Kiyoshi Tamura. It was originally intended as a surprise addition to the card but Sakuraba expressed his regret at being unable to fight, he was contacted just a week before, but both fighters were emotional but ultimately happy to fight each other. Mutual respect sealed the deal for a fight to take place at a future date. It must be said that decent organisation will be a welcome addition to PRIDE.

The main event was Jeff Monson’s PRIDE debut as UFC’s representative against Kazuyuki Fujita. Monson looked strong, facing a strong, hard-headed wrestler. Both men seemed tentative at time but Monson’s determination and strength saw him gain position time and again. Taking Fujita’s back, Monson managed to choke Fujita inside seven minutes.

The continuing and surprising rise of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou seems to show no signs of slowing, this time stunning Ricardo Arona with a first round knockout. Looking to avenge his teammate Antonio Rogerio Nogueira’s 23-second KO loss to Sokoudjou, the Brazilian Top Team fighter has not fought since September and this was only his second fight in 16 months. Meanwhile. Sokoudjou, the 2001 US Open Judo champion who looks more like 32 than 22, fought just six weeks ago at PRIDE 33. In the run up to the fight, PRIDE continued to play up his African heritage. Even the pre-fight video package featured the fatuous question “what kind of animals have you fought” being put to the Team Quest fighter. However, Sokoudjou played up to it, even with his now-regular “Tarzan” chest beating celebration.

The opening minute was tentative. Sokoudjou worked out his kicking range with some great range finders to the leg and head, Arona returned a couple to the legs. Arona burst into action with a single leg takedown attempt but Sokoudjou’s skill, athleticism and balance kept him standing. Arona finally broke from his takedown attempt after absorbing some hammerfists and, by Sokoudjou’s movement, defended for a knee. However, Thierry chose a right uppercut that landed flush, pouncing to take advantage and winning a stoppage. Sokoudjou has come from nowhere to beat two of the top middleweight fighters in PRIDE after a fairly unremarkable record beforehand, gatecrashing the top 10. It is likely he will now be considered one of their top fighters at 93 kg.

Shinya Aoki’s quick destruction of Brian Lo-A-Njoe showed again that he is more than a pair of long, garish Under Armour tights. The man whom many tout as having the best jiu-jitsu in MMA had to ride out the first thirty seconds, where he absorbed a flying knee before falling into his guard and taking a stiff punches from the first standing, then kneeling Lo-A-Njoe. However, going to the well one too many times with the flying knee saw Lo-A-Njoe taken down. Aoki looked to pass the guard but Lo-A-Njoe swept which led to his downfall. Aoki worked straight into an armbar from his back to get the submission in 1:13.

James “the Colossus” Thompson took on one of his idols in Don Frye. Frye caught Thompson in the midst of his “Gong & Dash” at the beginning of the round but failed to capitalise. They engaged in a hockey fight, both men holding the others head and wailing away. As the fight wore on, Thompson took the initiative. Frye looked spent as he laid in in turtle position with Thompson raining down hammerfists. As Frye managed to get to his feet, Thompson threw two soccer kicks that looked like the beginning of the end. A flurry of punches and a knee looked like they would end the fight but the referee just didn’t come in to stop the fight. After 90 seconds of almost continual punches and knees in the corner, the referee finally called an end to the fight. A stoppage in any of the preceding 90 seconds would have been fair, as the ropes appeared to be holding Frye up.

A similar fate to Don Frye befell Akira Shoji as he found himself forced into a leglock battle with Dutchman Gilbert Yvel. Taking the fight as a late replacement, Shoji managed to gain top position but, after the giving up the leglock battle, Yvel showed the energy that he initially brought into the ring and took position. In Shoji’s half guard, Yvel unloaded with a barrage of punches, prompting the referee to stop the fight.

Zelg Galesic, the Cage Rage British Middleweight champion, has earned the somewhat premature tag of mini-Cro Cop is maybe a touch but you can see where they’re coming from, as he’s an explosive fighter with quick strikes on his feet and on the ground. Facing off against Judo practitioner Makoto Takimoto, he impressed early with some nice strikes and survival instincts on the ground. However, it was not enough and he found himself in an armbar from which there was no escape. Galesic looks small to fight at 83 kg and with the likely realignment of the weight classes, he may find himself more comfortable at 77 kg.

Curiously, the US PPV did not show the whole event, missing out the battle between the behemoths Butterbean and Zuluzinho and the match between Yoshihiro Najao and Edson Drago.

In the battle of the behemoths, Butterbean faced off against Zuluzinho, a man seemingly hired more due to his size and ability to pull scary faces than his actual fighting ability. If history has shown anything it is that if you stand right in front of Butterbean, he will hit you and this was Zuluzinho’s first mistake, absorbing three flush strikes. A takedown was a smart strategy on Zulu’s part but allowing himself to be quickly swept by Bean was Zuluzinho’s second mistake. Inexpertly working for an americana from side control, Bean managed to hold Zuluzinho down and land some shots, including repeated knees and forearms to the stomach. However, soon enough, Butterbean returned to the submission. He worked for the americana again and, this time, managed to thread his left arm though Zuluzinho’s right, locked his hand to his other wrist and turned the screw to earn the submission victory.

With the forthcoming change to the Unified Rules, it is likely that we will finally see a distinction between heavyweights and super heavyweights. The super heavyweight division is an oft-overlooked division. Nobody will provide you with a list of the top 10 super heavyweights. If they were to, Butterbean would surely be in it.

Yoshihiro Nakao dominated Edson Drago, taking the Brazilian down repeatedly throughout the first stanza, holding top position and striking consistently with punches and knees. Nearing the end of the first round, he snagged Drago in a modified neck crank from the side mount and secured the submission.

A strange night. Lots of one-sided fights and two amazing shocks; Sokoudjou’s victory over Ricardo Arona and Butterbean managing to thread his arm around Zuluzinho’s. However, while this was the funeral, it was later confirmed that the Fertitta-owned PRIDE Worldwide will not take over control of PRIDE until May 1st. While there have been many things that DSE have brought to PRIDE which made the product edgy, it will be somewhat comforting to know that PRIDE will finally have some organisation to it. For too long thing have been fast and loose. It became old. In that respect, DSE’s PRIDE will always be the wild girlfriend of your youth, whereas the future looks to become the dependable wife. I have the feeling we will look back on DSE with the same fondness.

UFC 69

I went 1 for 3 at UFC Fight Night and went 6 for 9 on UFC 69. One fight on each show I picked more because I liked the fighter rather than I thought he’d win.

The show will be dissected by everybody so I thought I’d just congratulate Matt Serra and look at Mike Swick’s debated move to welterweight.

Matt Serra is one of the most likeable characters in MMA. When discussing TUF 4 before, I said that we wouldn’t know if the series was a success until these fighters actually get their title shots. I hoped that Serra would be competitive and would make it to the third round but I never expected him to win. I watched the match over and over, it looked like a different Matt Serra. As much as everybody must be queuing up to want to face him as a “weak champion”, he looked as good as anybody in the division last night. He did something nobody else could do. He grounded and pounded GSP. Along with Sokoudjou’s victory, this means I will never count anybody out ever again. His victory also saved the card.

Mike Swick received a wakeup call from Yushin Okami. It’s the sort of wakeup call a fighter often receives; if you want to fight at the top level, you have to cut weight. Admitting in subsequent interviews that he doesn’t cut weight to fight at 185 lbs, he suggested that between weigh-in and fight time he actually drops as much as 5lbs in weight. When you consider that fighters such as Rich Franklin cut as much as 15lbs to make 185 and that even Tim Sylvia is known to cut as much as 25lbs to make 265, Swick is silly to not cut. Swick started in The Ultimate Fighter as an undersized light heavyweight; now we realise by how much.

Joe Calzaghe-Peter Manfredo Jr.

Seldom do I ever want to veer off into boxing but, here in the UK, a prime Saturday TV slot on free network TV was given over to Joe Calzaghe’s twentieth defence of his WBO Super Middleweight title against Peter Manfredo Jr. Sure, Manfredo looked a bit stiff in there but the third-round stoppage was ludicrous. How the referee can justify that is beyond me. I used to love boxing as a child. Here in the UK, we were blessed with a crop of good middleweights in the early 90s and their brutal wars of attrition still haunt us to this day. Michael Watson and American challenger Gerald McClellan were a victim of these wars and the careers of Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank were shortened as a result of the physical and mental scars. However, like many things in this country, they got it wrong. The problem was insufficient medical procedures to help downed fighters but, instead, we get the overprotective, bogus refereeing that is killing the sport. It’s a sport based on hitting somebody in the face – deal with it.

I long to love boxing again but they make it so damned hard. We have sanctioning bodies that seem more interested in
playing matchmaker and collecting large sanctioning fees than seeing their champions fight the best. The IBF should be ashamed for their part in the Victor Burgos situation, but I doubt they feel a twang of guilt for offering him up to the wolves. This is the same body that strips champions on seemingly a weekly basis for daring to unify titles and then refuse to fight whatever mandatory contender is put forward by the IBF. The WBA creates a new champion as soon as anybody wins another belt. It’s a joke. The only sanctioning body that stays out of the way of their fighters is the IBO, yet they are considered one of the minor sanctioning bodies.

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Written by Michael Farrow

April 10, 2007 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Boxing, MMA

Tagged with , ,

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