The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

No, That Won’t Work Either

I cannot believe this needs to be said, but I have read several people defending that Iole column on the basis that Rua should have been looking for a stoppage and therefore the real issue was bad advice. This is stupid on several levels, of which here are a few:

1. Rua only “needs” to finish that fight if you agree with the judges’ scoring, and by that same scoring Rua fought more effectively in the later rounds after he was down on the score cards. If fighting effectively can be taken as a synonym for doing damage and striving to potentially finish a fight, than according to those judges Rua acted precisely the way he was advised not to do.

2. There’s two functional elements to the cornermen-are-at-fault thesis: the actual accuracy of the judges, and the degree to which the Rua corner should have been aware of the Judges take. There are thus 4 potential combinations of those factors. If the judges are correct and Rua’s corner should have known, then they are culpable; but in a fight where most polls show 80% of fans believing the judges were wrong, no one on press row had it for Machida, and Dana White believes the judging was bad enough to warrant an immediate rematch, this is an extremely difficult contention to defend. If the judges are incorrect and Rua’s corner should have known they would be, then you’re essentially saying that they should be able to read the minds of judges to know that they’re performing incompetently. Given the presence of Cecil Peoples I’ll give partial credit to this one, but for all three judges to be so wrong (or so out of line with the majority view) isn’t something which can be reasonably anticipated. If the judges were correct and Rua’s corner should not have known, the case is the same. If the judges were incorrect and Rua’s corner should not have known, then the fault again is with the judges.

Put more plainly, it’s not reasonable for the corner to anticipate judging so outside the mainstream view of the fight. One judge, maybe; all three, no. Based on the way almost everyone saw the fight, Rua WAS winning, and thus their advice was completely reasonable based on the evidence they had to hand and the reasonable inferences they could draw therefrom.

3. In additional support of the corner, the risk profile of attempting a finish at all costs vs. that of controlled aggression is not the same on several levels. Going for a finish and getting it would guarantee a win and make Rua a major star stateside; but getting KO’d would be a huge risk to his career, the chances of being so increase dramatically with going all-out for the KO, and the marginal fame value of KOing Machida vs. decisioning him isn’t that high given that in either case Rua would still be defeating an undefeated champion for a major title in a PPV headliner.

Give it up folks, that column is indefensible.

October 26, 2009 Posted by | MMA | | 2 Comments

Truth Is Truth

Let’s all be honest: Shogun won that fight, and there’s almost no way you can legitimately card that fight for Machida. I’ll accept 3-2 Shogun from the PPV evidence; if you had Machida winning, I’d say it’s incumbent on you to write a justification of that card in detail and with specific reference to the judging criteria, because almost everyone seemed to have Rua winning that fight. He landed more shots, harder shots, more frequent shots in more of the rounds and drove Machida around the ring. He won. I picked Machida by KO, and even I’ll tell you that. I don’t have great interest in telling UFC what they “should” book under ordinary circumstances, but there’s no way to avoid doing Machida vs. Shogun II now and retain any meaning in that belt- to my mind the scoring was clear enough that I feel comfortable calling Shogun the uncrowned champion, and to my mind Machida now needs to prove that he can beat Shogun and not vice-versa. Do Shogun vs. Machida II, and the winner gets the winner of Rampage vs. the winner of Silva vs. Evans.

EDIT: and on a side note, anyone using the “but you need to beat the champion, innit” argument bugger off, can’t they? There is absolutely nothing in the official scoring criteria which says the champion gets a 2-round handicap, and in any case the whole point of being the champion is that you’ve PROVEN yourself to be the best; the idea that you can still be the champion because someone beat you- but you know, not enough– is both antithetical to the spirit of honest competition, and undermines the entire rationale of naming a “champion” in the first place. If you lose you lose and if you win you win.

Incidentally, I’ve read some of the stupidest things I’ve ever read from any human being on earth in the last hour in regards to this fight. My favorite so far is from some knuckle-dragging subnormal at the WrestingObserver.com boards who came up with “I’m going to give every round to the champion unless the challenger does better, in which case I’ll give him 10-8 rounds” as his judging criteria for this fight, and yes, if you’re wondering I don’t know if this is Cecil Peoples or not. I swear to God, there needs to be some sort of UFC-sponsored 12 week class on how to judge a fight for fans and pros alike at this point, because the percentage of unjustifiably buttheaded cards seems to increase year by year.

DOUBLE EDIT: Post edited for language, bile moved to the post above.

October 25, 2009 Posted by | MMA | | Leave a comment

UFC 104 Predictions: Machida vs. Shogun, UFC vs. Expectations

Let’s not mince words here: this is not a great card and may not be a good show, and there’s a reason the PPV expectations are as low for this as for any recent show and tickets are far from sold out in LA for the live experience. I think we’re really starting to see UFC suffer the bite of running more shows than they have stars to fill, and after so many blow-away cards in recent years they’ve conditioned their audience to expect more than a semi-main featuring Ben Rothwell. This show may do 350,000 or less on PPV, unless Machida Karate is a bigger draw than it seems to be so far or the countdown show really hooks people.

Main card

* Light Heavyweight Championship bout: Lyoto Machida (c) vs. Mauricio Rua

It should be so much more, shouldn’t it? Machida is an undefeated and rarely even threatened champion with surprising charisma and a unique signature fighting style with mystique and the aura of unsolvability; Rua is one of the legendary fighters of PRIDE still in his physical prime at 27 and coming off of two straight wins against name opponents, one of which won KO of the night, the other fight of the night. And yet this is as flat a main event- let alone a title fight- as you’ll see in UFC, expected to do little by current standards on PPV and nowhere close to a sell out live in LA. The reasons aren’t a mystery: Machida is regarded as nigh-invincible and requires a major star to draw against; Rua is perceived as something of another ex-PRIDE washout hurt by the different UFC rules, damaged goods after knee problems, and who’s racked up his two most recent wins against an old man and a shot fighter. All of this is more or less true, and on a deeper level I think many people subconsciously (and some consciously) realize that even if the PRIDE Shogun shows up, he was almost always screwed stylistically against Machida- it’s just an awful matchup for him.

Everything Machida does is based on elusiveness- he’s the epitome of the old boxing maxims to hit and don’t be hit, to make them miss and make them pay. As a striker his head movement is exceptional and his stance takes full advantage of that, keeping his head as far back from the opponent as any fighter. His foot movement is just as good and he’s willing and able to circle, move out, reset, take his time and force a mistake which allows him to counter-strike. Because of the distance he prefers, his grappling experience (including, unusually, sumo) and his innate quickness he’s also exceptionally hard to take down, clinch or grapple with. He’s just plain hard to reach and harder to catch. Shogun is likely not his superior in any great degree on the mat, and in any case does not have the sort of wrestling expertise needed to force the fight there; even if he were willing to try to pull guard or go for sloppy-just-get-it-down takedowns Machida’s movement and ability to maintain balance for striking will make it exceptionally hard for him to do so without leaving himself open to being clobbered with counter strikes in the process. In essence, Machida’s style functions in the way excellent wrestling does for some other fighters, allowing him to choose the level of the fight; and against Shogun he will almost certainly make it a kickboxing match, a type of fight in which he’s never really been threatened. Moreover, even as a kickboxing match it will likely be held at a certain distance, without any opportunity for Shogun to execute the Thai clinch and use knees. Does anyone think Shogun can win a 4 point striking battle?

Even the PRIDE Shogun would likely never have been able to force Machida into the positions necessary to finish him, where stomps or soccer kicks would have been employable. The post-PRIDE, post-knee injury Shogun with some conditioning questions doesn’t stand any better of a chance against Machida in a 5 round fight in a cage where it’s even harder to corner someone than it is in a ring. Machida is the easy pick here, by 2nd round KO. They say a champion isn’t really a champion until he’s defended his title; this is Machida’s chance to continue establishing himself as the dominant 205 pound fighter of his era, and make himself a star.

* Heavyweight bout: Cain Velasquez vs. Ben Fucking Rothwell

Make no mistake: Rothwell is booked here on the assumption that he will lose, as despite a few solid-but-not-overwhelming performances which seemed to belie some of the hype attached to him Velasquez remains one of the heavyweights UFC is counting on to carry the division into the future. Once Shane Carwin was pulled from this slot to face BROCK! at UFC 106, the selection of Rothwell for this slot made that abundantly clear- Velasquez vs. Rothwell adds no buys, so the only future value to be derived from it for UFC is as a showcase for Cain. Rothwell is very, very solid; but he’s the kind of standard off-the-rack journeyman heavyweight who a future star and potential champion should beat, and I’m guessing that after grazing past defeat last time out after Cheick Kongo hurt him repeatedly, Velasquez will have learned his lesson and will use his wrestling to dominate this one from the outset. 3 round decision for Velasquez. He needs to move his head though, because if he stands in front of Rothwell the way he stood in front of Kongo he can easily be dispatched.

* Lightweight bout: Gleison Tibau vs. Josh Neer

I can’t shake the image of Neer being unable to get off his back against Kurt Pellegrino- he’s rarely looked that bad before, but he’s apparently still got God knows what silliness going on in his personal life and is facing a gigantic lightweight who UFC originally wanted to give a shot against Sean Sherk to in this slot. Add in that Neer appeared more irritated by Batman’s fighting style than his own inability to stand up in that fight, and I have to go with Tibau here. Too big, too good on the ground, and I’m not sure Neer’s learned the relevant lesson yet.

* Lightweight bout: Joe Stevenson vs. Spencer Fisher

I actually really like this fight, and while neither of these guys are likely to be title contenders anytime soon this is probably going to be the most fun and action-filled fight of the televised undercard. Stevenson has looked noticeably better of late now that he’s joined Greg Jackson’s camp, he’s younger and he’s faced the better opposition, so he’s my pick by decision in a fight between two guys who somewhat mirror each other; but realistically, these are two guys who can strike, wrestle and grapple and have a well-deserved reputation for action fights, so no matter how it goes it should be fun.

* Welterweight bout: Anthony Johnson vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida

Poor Yoshida. He’s a solid grappler and a solid fighter who’s faced a good level of competition with decent results, but UFC is for a second time using him as a trial horse/make-this-guy-look-good opponent against a solid or better striker who’s obviously being groomed for larger things. The first time, against Kos Joshcheck, ended with Yoshida suffering one of last year’s fugliest KOs; this time might be even worse. Johnson doesn’t have the mat skills of Koscheck and has been tapped before, but he’s a gigantic welterweight in his near-physical prime at 25 and is facing a smallish welterweight a decade older than him. Yoshida will be hard-pressed to get this one down despite his judo skills, especially as he’ll have to wade in against a talented kickboxer with 8 inches of reach on him, and he’s not noted for his excellent head movement. This could be fun as long as it goes as Yoshida has the warrior’s instinct to engage and force a fight, but he’s almost certainly physically overmatched here. Johnson might be a bit cautious given the opponent’s style and it being his first time featured on the main card of a PPV, so I’ll say he wins by 2nd round KO. Gigantic head kick.

Spike TV card

* Light Heavyweight bout: Ryan Bader vs. Eric Schafer

I hate to say this, but part of me always roots for Red Schafer. He’s a big jowly lummox from Wisconsin where my family has roots, and if he weren’t ginger and were a bit shorter he could easily pass for a cousin of mine. Hell, he even went to college in the town where my mother grew up and my father lived for a time, and he looks facially a lot like my maternal grandfather. It’s frankly a bit disturbing. I’m honestly not sure what to think of his chances in this one- Bader is younger and a better athlete and his wrestling will easily allow him to decide where this one goes, but he’s also coming off of a major knee injury and has a limited track record at the highest level. I’m going to guess we get the rare non-Wang version of a wrestler eschewing his wrestling, as Bader keeps it standing for three rounds as he did vs. Vinny Magalhaes and wins a mildly entertaining toughman contest.

* Heavyweight bout: Antoni Hardonk vs. Patrick Barry

Kickboxing. Kiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickboxing. Kick? Boxing! Kickboxing. Not wrestling, not jiujitsu, not judo, not karate, not akido, not kung fu, not tae kwon do, not jeet kun do, not Joe san do, not even SAFTA or ninjitsu. KICKBOXING. That’s what you’re getting and you’d better like it, because that is all these gentlemen do. And I’m all for it, really; it’s a fun striker’s match to kick off the TV portion of the card, there’s apparently some kind of a semi-personal issue on Barry’s part involving him not being regarded as having as much potential as Hardonk when both were students of Ernesto Hoost, and both guys need the win coming off of losses in which they were finished. Barry has the better wrestling in theory with his San Shou background, but he’s lighter, shorter, should probably be a light-heavyweight, and given the background of this one he’s likely to want to prove himself by out-doing Hardonk at what they both do best. That, I suspect, is what will get him knocked out by punches in the first.

Preliminary card

* Middleweight bout: Yushin Okami vs. Chael Sonnen

We’re about to find out if you can scream and snore at the same time, because this one could be scary-boring. People have complained about it being banished to the televised-under-no-circumstances undercard, and I can understand the pure sports argument against that decision; but I weep no tears personally over missing this. Maybe, if we’re lucky, their wrestling will mutually negate and it’ll be charmingly sloppy boxing. But I doubt it. Okami, by genocidally boring decision, ensuring that he gets the loser of Henderson-Marquardt in a fight which no one on earth will want to see.

* Middleweight bout: Jorge Rivera vs. Rob Kimmons

Ehhh, Kimmons, 2nd round submission. 9 years is big age gap.

* Light Heavyweight bout: Kyle Kingsbury vs. Razak Al-Hassan

Combined, they’ve lost their last three fights. What? I’ll take Kingsbury just because I hate taking a guy in his first fight back after a bad injury, and I tend to default to picking Trunk Slamchest-style wrestlers.

* Heavyweight bout: Stefan Struve vs. Chase Gormley

I’m sure there’s a good explanation of this somewhere, but I’m personally not entirely clear of why Stefan Struve is in the UFC or why if he is going to be kept on the roster at this point in time he’s fighting on the untelevised undercard of a non-European show. He’s not a bad fighter at all- he’s got wonderful physical gifts and a fighter’s heart- but at 21 he’s clearly years away from his athletic peak or from developing a truly rounded and multifaceted game. He’s also not selling one additional ticket in LA. Gormley has an undefeated record in addition to a vaguely unsavory-sounding last name, but he’s not fought in 17 months. Hard one to call. I don’t think Struve has learned to use his range yet, so I’ll pick Gormley to wrestle him down and ride him to a decision.

Fun fact: In 20 pro fights, Struve has faced men from 14 different nations and three continents. This man needs to be put in JCVD-style low-budget action movies where he kickboxes with dinosaurs or something. Or maybe he can buy the Knicks?

Also, on a side note for anyone who knows me personally, I have finally been successfully peer-pressured into joining farcebutt or facebite or Facebook or whatever it’s called under my full name (Brendan Welsh-Balliett), so feel free to friend me or whatever it is you do on there. I’m still very much figuring it out, and am as likely to accidentally launch nukes at Russia as I am to find you first.

October 20, 2009 Posted by | MMA | , , , | 1 Comment

Boxing/MMA Conversion Chart, Pt. 2

Back with the second installment of these.

5. BJ Penn converts to Juan Manuel Marquez.

Similarities: Technically excellent and physically unimposing fighters who’ve fought their careers out slightly in the shadow of an important rival, in Penn’s case GSP and in Marquez’s, Pacquiao. Both as a result have something of a public reputation as whiners. Both are far from imposing physical specimens, and thus rely on a perfection of technique to achieve results- both are amazingly accurate strikers, and Penn adds his famous jiu jitsu while Marquez is the more varied puncher. Both are probably first-ballot hall of famers who’ve somehow always seemed a half-step behind the top 2 or 3 P4P guys in their eras.

Differences: Penn has a sort of perpetual fog of disappointment around him, a sense that he’s not getting the most out of his career whether through lack of conditioning, or lack of improvement, or insistence in fighting at weights which don’t suit him. Marquez by contrast has probably accomplished now more than had been expected of him early in his career, and there’s really no fight you can point to and say conclusively that Marquez beat himself in through lack of preparation. Penn has fought all over the place weight-wise and sought out the big fights, while Marquez has seemed content at times to hang around at one weight and fight scrubs instead of seeking out career-defining superfights. Oddly enough though, when he does have those fights Marquez has shown the heart of a lion in coming back from adversity (recovering from 3 first-round knockdowns against Pacquiao, for instance) in a way which Penn never really has.

6. Randy Couture converts to Bernard Hopkins.

Similarities: The inspiration for this list and the most obvious comparison, it’s two old men who’ve won multiple titles in multiples weight classes and succeeded far past the age of 40, beating up younger men despite being counted out and written off again and again. Both are possessed of brilliant insight into their respective sports and have demonstrated it as excellent TV analysts, both retain far more of their youthful quickness and endurance at this age than they have any right to, both hit harder than they’re expected to and can be counted on for one unexpected knockdown in a thrilling decision victory (vs. Tarver, vs. Sylvia, etc.), both are really good wrestlers, both have a remarkable understanding of positioning and timing, both have a knack for suckering opponents into fighting their fight. Both (if Hopkins vs. Adamek is made) are likely to win their next fight despite being older than things like weather and the moon. Both have fought just about everyone with a nametag in their weight range at one time or another. Both have retired on occasion, and neither has ever meant it. Both have headlined huge shows, and both are regarded as one of, if not the, foremost fighters of their era.

Differences: One’s Sub-Zero, the other’s Scorpion; they’re palette swaps of each other for all intents and purposes, with biography the only serious difference. Couture was a military man and amateur wrestler who was obviously great from the start (“The Natural”), winning the UFC heavyweight title in his 4th pro fight. Hopkins was a criminal who did prison time (5 years), and who lost his pro debut before dropping down in weight and becoming what he became. If you want to really look for something, Couture is more beloved while Hopkins is more respected; Couture has also won more total titles, while Hopkins dominated middleweight in a way Couture never quite did at any weight class.

Fun Fact: in all the furor over this horrible pro wrestler invading UFC, it’s fun to remember that Randy Couture’s first UFC opponent was this guy.

A few other quicker ones, which are more provisional:

7. Cain Valasquez converts to Jorge Linares

Similarities: Both are fantastic young prospects with awesome reputations and a strong measure of early pro success, marred by one crucial flaw. In Linares’ case, he can’t stay healthy enough to fight consistently; in Velasquez’s, he’s got a chin about which people are starting to ask serious questions after Cheick Kongo cracked it twice. Neither guy is so far exactly a killer KO artist either.

Differences: A vast weight difference, and most importantly simply that each guy is early enough in their career that we don’t really know what they’ll become.

8. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua converts to Miguel Cotto

Similarities: Both have been dominant fighters in their division and at times considered the best regardless of who held the actual titles, and both are defined as fighters by their offense. Both had serious setbacks due to physical injury, Cotto from the illegal and disgraceful beating he received from Antonio Margarito’s loaded gloves, Shogun from a long series of knee problems which kept him out for over a year. Both may be walking into a buzzsaw next time out against Manny Pacquiao and Lyoto Machida, though there are people who are picking both men as underdogs. Both have records with very few goobers, derelicts, butt-scratchers and humanoids on them. Both had a good win last time out, but with real questions attached- Cotto about his durability, Rua as to whether the guy he beat was any good any more.

Differences: Rua has a much better and longer track record against top, top, top opposition; however that record is also suspect for a reason Cotto’s can’t be, given the switch from PRIDE rules to UFC.

9. John Duddy and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. convert to Kimbo Slice

Similarities: Vaguely ethnic drawing cards whose fame has come from means other than actual in-ring accomplishments, and who owe the careers they have to shrewd promotion and matchmaking. None are really any good, and all either are likely to or already have folded against the first serious opposition they faced.

Differences: Kimbo’s a lot more famous than those other too goofs, and he’s also shown a resilience as an attraction which they haven’t by getting himself on TUF. Heard anything about Duddy recently since the Billy Lyell fight? Me neither.

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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.

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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.

January 18, 2009 Posted by | Boxing, MMA | , , | Leave a comment