The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

UFC 93 Thoughts/Berto W12 Collazo

I don’t write much about MMA here as I’m still very much in the process of compiling a meaningful knowledge base on the sport which will hopefully make what I have to say actually worth reading; but that said, I think I’m about at the point where I feel comfortable with throwing a few thoughts out there.

– The major thing I took away from the evening was that it’s shows like this as much as any which build the popularity of the sport and convert people like me- a long time boxing fan- into MMA fans. At this point MMA is probably at least equally as appealing to me as boxing, and possibly more so. Boxing still retains its ability to put on amazing big shows for atmosphere and sometimes quality, shows which feel more like Big Events than almost anything else in sports this side of one-offs like the super bowl or Champions League/FA Cup finals. MMA however (and this includes UFC, Affliction, Elite XC when they existed and according to what I read at least some of DREAM/Sengoku) has a vast advantage in putting together non-Big Event shows which nevertheless are very, very good all the way through. Boxing on HBO or Showtime for free will usually give you two, sometimes three notable and good fights; on PPV, you get maybe two very good fights and a squash or two. An off-brand unpromoted no-buys UFC like this had 4 interesting and competitive fights on the main card plus one freak show match that was supposed to be a squash (more on that below), which as far as I’m concerned is a lot more value for money. It’s hard work to find an actively bad top promotion MMA card these days, despite the whining of online MMA fans. You can pretty much impulse buy any given UFC card these days and enjoy it, and while it’s true that there are too many shows from a promotional standpoint, from a fan’s perspective it’s not a killer yet because the shows are at least a lot of fun like this one if they’re n0t of the importance of UFC 91 or 92.

– Speaking of that “squash match”, what on earth happened in Coleman vs. Shogun? Shogun is apparently being pushed to the main event of UFC 97 against Chuck Liddell following this, and he had better step his game up 100% because otherwise even the ultra-faded version of Chuck is going to kill him with fiery death. He looked awful tonight, and I want to give him the benefit of the doubt given that he hadn’t fought in forever and was coming off some horrible knee injuries; but the fact that he was facing such a nothing opponent- and Coleman was shot and done tonight, make no mistake- who gassed out inside of the first round, and Rua still couldn’t get much working for him, has to be very discouraging about his future prospects. Shogun himself gassed out much more quickly than might have been hoped for and that, combined with his less-than-previous physique makes you wonder whether he’s entirely healthy and able to train at his peak ability yet. His standup was solid though not devastating, and while he was quite accurate and able to hit Coleman any time he wanted after fatigue dropped Coleman’s hands, he wasn’t able until the final 30 seconds or so to keep up a consistent flurry. His knee to the head of Coleman when the latter was on his knees and had been for a good 10 seconds was also a bit discouraging if you were looking for signs of a smooth PRIDE-to-UFC transition for Rua.

Coleman was too tired to try many shots during the fight and was maybe 30% power on most of the ones he did try, but he got Shogun down on occasion and was able to reverse him on the ground with some consistency. Rua wasn’t able to cinch in many of his tries at leg locks and the like, and the one he did get well- called as an omo plata shoulder lock by Joe Rogan- he appeared too tired to apply effective pressure with. It was ugly stuff all around from Shogun, most of it pointing to conditioning issues. It would be madness to write off a 27 year old with the skills he possesses, but if he can’t reach a point athletically where he can effectively put those skills to work than he’s in a lot of trouble. By putting him into a main event with his next fight, UFC is essentially letting him sink or swim: if he wins, he’s certainly not in a title challenger position yet, but he’ll have his first major competitive win in the UFC and be in a position where he can begin to work his way into the imaginations of casual fans and force that opportunity; if he loses, he’s 1-2 in the UFC and will likely be viewed as damaged goods- another PRIDE washout who couldn’t adapt. I would bet that he gets cut at that point.

– Confirming tonight’s “do cardio or die” theme earlier was a strange Denis Kang/Alan Belcher fight in which Kang was vastly better at standup in accuracy and power, vastly better at wrestling in getting takedowns and maintaining position, at least equal in BJJ, and yet got choked out in brutal fashion in the second round. Why? Because he gassed out and did a half-ass jacknife double that he didn’t follow through on and ran himself directly into a guillotine. Do your roadwork, kids.

– Franklin/Hendo was a fun fight in that it was obvious how skilled both guys were and the decision could have easily gone either way. I had Hendo winning 29-28 which was my pick beforehand, though I thought Hendo would get a bit more done in the standup. Honestly, the right guy probably won for the sake of business, and this should let Franklin stay at 205 which is a lot better for him. It also shouldn’t hurt him in fans’ eyes at all- this was a coin-toss on paper and in the cage, and there’s no shame in losing that kind of fight to a legend.

– The other news coming out of the show was that UFC 96’s main event was announced: Rampage Jackson against Keith Jardine. I’m not seeing a lot of enthusiasm for this one out there in Internet MMA land, but I actually think it’s an interesting style match. Jackson’s been keeping fights standing of late and while he’s clearly got the power to vaporize Jardine early in the fight the way Houston Alexander and Wanderlei Silva did, if Jardine can get through that perennial danger period for him he’s got the low kick game to give Rampage the same look Forrest Griffen gave him. If Rampage can handle that, it speaks very well of his development as a fighter; if he can’t…well, anyone who was hoping for Evans/Machida at UFC 100 may get their wish. More on that one closer to the event time.

All in all, a solid thumbs-up show.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Meanwhile, boxing was starting to get its 2009 season off to a real start with Luis Collazo facing Andre Berto for the seminternational combowithfries regional heritage title or some such doodad. I had this one 6 rounds to 6 with Collazo a winner based on a point deduction, but I’m certainly not going to argue with either of the judges who had 114-113 cards for Berto. The guy with the 116-111 should be disbarred from his occupation.

Since he’s the money in this contest and ended up with the decision, it’s probably appropriate to talk about Berto first; but to understand the fight, Collazo is really where to start. The interesting thing to me about this fight was that the entire course of the action was predicated on what Collazo was doing at any given point in time. While Berto was better at range he was unable for most of the fight to maintain that range; and inside, especially after having a point deducted for holding, he was totally unable to match Collazo who outworked him whenever he chose to do so, nearly matched him for power and was far more accurate. The only reason Berto was in a position to take this decision, rightly or wrongly, was that Collazo gave away far too many rounds by mugging for the judges and doing a dime-store Roy Jones impersonation. He really has no one to blame for this result but himself. For his sake I hope he gets a rematch as both fighters discussed after this one, and fights 12 full rounds next time.

On to Berto. This was really not a good night for him in some ways, excellent in others. He came in with insane amounts of buzz on him from some in the media (Max Kellerman in particular has fallen in love with him, as he tends to do with speed guys) despite his obvious flaws, and this fight essentially demonstrated two things: first, that the hype right now is ridiculously premature; and second, in fairness, that the day may come when it’s actually quite appropriate. The physical tools are there as always for Berto- he’s lightning quick and has excellent power, and while his chin is still a major question, right now it’s fair to say better a question than the wrong answer. Defensively, he’s got a world to go on the inside at least. He fought the first few rounds with a gameplan of holding like John Ruiz whenever the fight drew in close, and once he had a point deducted and was told to knock it off he demonstrated both the same improved defense at range which he debuted in the Steve Forbes fight, and an inability to get out of the way of anything inside- shoeshine shots to the belly, brutal uppercuts, a left cross thrown in the same manner as an orthodox hook, etc. His inside offense wasn’t much better, as he rarely used his excellent uppercut and mostly threw, aside from some solid hooks to the body, a lot of slapping shots that Collazo easily ducked under. Berto can be outworked by someone who he can’t hurt, and right now he appears to be a one-speed one-gameplan fighter with little ability to adjust as the fight wore on. By the 9th and 10th Kellerman had tears in his voice over this performance.

But Berto also demonstrated one hugely important quality which cannot be taught, which almost all great fighters have, and which he had never been called on to demonstrate before: the will to win. This is more than a cliche; think of all the great young fighters blessed with amazing speed and power, who when faced with their first real test against a fighter who would not fade, would not quit, could not be easily knocked out and was trying to win the fight, simply closed up shop and let themselves be beat. Zab Judah, talented as he is, is virtually the prototype of this kind of fighter though far from the only example. Tonight we found out that Berto isn’t one as he was outboxed, out-skilled, out-thought and out-gamplanned tonight, was cut, had a point deducted, was hurt in the first round- and was never discouraged. Whether you believe he won this fight or not, you must admire and respect the way he continued to give maximum effort every round and tried to win the fight even after being taken into deep waters he’d never visited before, out of his comfort zone. In my view, Collazo won; even if you believe he lost, it was because he took too many rounds off; but Berto did everything you could hope for out of a fighter by going 12 hard rounds and putting himself in position to take advantage of Collazo’s lapses. When Berto’s skills catch up to his heart and athletic gifts, he’s really going to be the terror the hype says he already is.

A side note: early in this fight the referee deducted a point from Berto for holding. This man is my hero. I had said to Sean, literally not more than 30 or 40 seconds previously, that one of the biggest ways to help boxing would be for referees to actually enforce the rules against excessive holding, which Berto was clearly engaged in. The HBO crew in full shill mode later was trying to say it was unreasonable to have docked a point because Berto was holding as a result of being hurt, but he had been doing it continually since the opening bell and stopped doing it after the deduction, which made it obvious that it was a tactical call on his part and not a necessity as a result of being hurt. Instead of having a decent fight with a lot of hugging, we ended up with a very good fight fought fairly, and I give a substantial portion of the credit for that to the referee. Without his decision fighting at close range would have been effectively removed from the equation in violation of the rules and the intent behind them, Berto would have likely won by a larger margin as a result of breaking those rules, fans would have had a boring fight, no one’s reputation would have been much enhanced, neither guy would have a potential payday in a rematch, and I as a fan would have walked away thinking “gee, UFC was excellent this afternoon, but boxing kind of sucked tonight.” One decision changed all that. I salute you, referee.

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January 18, 2009 - Posted by | Boxing, MMA | , ,

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