Saturday, 31 July 2010

Five to watch in August

It's a testament to just how many good shows and how many good fighters there are in the next thirty one days that I could have easily called this twenty five to watch in August.

There are amazing fights this month all around the world and it really does show us just how far the sport has developed of the past few years. All I can say is that it's an awesome time to be an mma fan so get yourself a drink, grab your diary and plan your month round these encounters

August 1st 2010
UFC Live on Versus 2
John Howard vs. Jake Ellenberger

I've been an Ellenberger fan for a while, that guy always brings it and showed tremendous heart in his fight with Carlos Condit. John Howard has been on a tear since joining the UFC as he's won his last four straight, with his last fight winning him knockout of the night. It's hard to call this one as both of these guys have good wrestling pedigrees and ever improving stand up. Whoever wins this one will get a nice step up the ladder and with GSP running through everyone at 170lbs, it might only be another few fights before one of these two guys gets a shot at the belt. I see Howard pushing the pace early but not being able to put Ellenberger away and punching himself out in the third, Ellenberger will pick his shots and take home a TKO victory.

August 7th 2010
UFC 117
Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves

There's so much anticipation surrounding this rematch at UFC 117. It has been arranged and cancelled a few times due to Alves having issues following an MRI scan. Fitch took the first fight between these two way back in 2006 after he landed a huge upkick and was able to finish the young Brazilian off. A lot has happened since that fight as both men have challenged for the title at welterweight and have improved and evolved a tremendous amount. Fitch always brings the fight but I don't see him being able to takedown and control Thiago Alves like GSP did. I see a big KO for Alves in the second as Fitch eats a huge knee as he shoots in for a double leg.

August 18th 2010
WEC 50
Brad Pickett vs. Scott Jorgenson

Brad really has stepped up to the plate in the WEC and with impressive wins against Kyle Dietz and Demetrious Johnson, he now faces an even bigger task in top 5 rated Scott Jorgenson. Pickett is no stranger to the big fight but Jorgenson brings an impressive 6-2 WEC record and NCAA wrestling credentials to the table. The whole card is stacked from top to bottom but I see this one being a war simply because Pickett will come out swinging to try and negate the wrestling advantage of his opponent. I can see Jorgenson surviving the early onslaught and coming back to grind out a decision victory via some dominant takedowns and ground and pound.

August 21st 2010
Strikeforce: Houston
Jorge Gurgel vs. K.J. Noons

It seems like forever ago since Jorge Gurgel used to fight in the UFC, in reality its only a little over 18 months. In his UFC career he had a lot of fights go to the judges but his love of throwing recklessly to entertain the crowd always meant his fights were entertaining. It's amazing really that for a decorated black belt he hasn't submitted anyone for 5 years. His gameplan has to be to get this fight to the ground, if he decides to stand up and trade with a dangerous kickboxer like Noons then the outcome can only be bad for him. In this fight watch for Gurgel to persue the takedown but in the later rounds get drawn in to a barn burning brawl, a brawl which ends with him catching too many shots and being on the wrong side of a TKO.

August 28th 2010 
UFC 118
Nate Diaz vs. Marcus Davis

I really love the idea of this fight, simply because both fighters always leave it all on the line. Nate Diaz would fight in a phone box if he had to and Marcus Davis always looks to finish fights with his explosive punching power. You'd think Nate would be unwise to strike with Marcus but then everyone said that Nick Diaz would be unwise to strike with Robbie Lawler and look how that ended. I see Nate not afraid to stand up and trade but I also think at some point this one will go the ground and when that happens, crazy legs Diaz will wrap up a tight triangle choke for a 2nd round submission victory.

So there you have it, go and plan your August around these fights and feel free to post your picks up in the comment section, who knows I might just send a shirt your way if you're super accurate. 

Until next time take care of yourselves and drop me a line if you need anything.

Monday, 26 July 2010

The Underdog

This article was featured in the July 2010 issue of Combat Magazine.

It’s hard to define why the role of the underdog has such an important place in mixed martial arts. In a sport where anything can change in a split second and where an infinite number of variables govern the difference between having your hand raised and being woken up it is inevitable that upsets will happen. With the rate that the sport continues to evolve there is incredible talent all over the world away from the bright lights of the bigger shows. There are a number of reasons why fans get behind the underdogs and why some fighters shine in this position.

Randy Couture, perhaps the greatest achieving underdog in the UFC, often talks about his love for fighting the odds and looking at his record of title reigns in different weight classes it would be hard to argue with him.

Randy Couture’s victory against Tim Sylvia at UFC 68 back in March 2007 ranks as one of the great examples of an underdog victory. Couture was coming out of retirement after a year away from the sport, following his second loss to Chuck Liddell. He was given commentating duties by the UFC and it was after watching Tim Sylvia’s lacklustre performances against Andrei Arlovski and Jeff Monson that he was spurred into action. Couture signed a new deal with the UFC and was given a title shot against the much favoured Sylvia. All the press before the fight had referenced the factors that stood in the way of Couture’s unlikely victory which included his age, weight, reach, stand up and power. A Captain America victory seemed a long shot at best.

The fight was merely 8 seconds old when a punch connected that bought the entire arena to their feet. Couture threw a leg kick and followed it up with a swooping overhand right which caught Sylvia cleanly on the chin, sending him flailing to the canvas. Couture quickly swarmed on his downed foe and took his back, which he would keep for the entire of the first round. This incident dictated the whole of the fight as Couture defied the odds once again by out-wrestling, out-striking and out-working the heavily favoured champion. It was a performance that embodied the spirit of the underdog perfectly to the fight community; the fight community that remembered Buster Douglas, that cheered for Daniel Larusso and would have bought the pay per view for David vs. Goliath if it was available.

Randy Couture is a perfect example of a fighter who takes the role of the underdog and creates a positive outcome from it. He realised that the pressure in this situation wasn’t on him. However if he won then he would be the era defining champion, who overcame the insurmountable odds. In this situation it is easy to see why the more favoured fighter feels pressure in this situation as they don’t have a great deal to gain from victory but stand to lose a lot from defeat.  Couture also talked about the motivational aspect that this role can give by encouraging fighters to train hard to prove  a point to the people who doubted their abilities.

The fight world was still reeling after Couture’s epic encounter with Sylvia when TUF4 champion Matt Serra took on George “Rush” St Pierre at UFC 69. The bookmakers had St Pierre as a heavy favourite at -1300, 1/13 in fractional odds. GSP was on a trail of destruction in the UFC and had recently stopped legendary champion Matt Hughes in two blistering rounds. He was the archetypal dominant athlete at 170lbs and one that seemed to represent the future of the division.

Throughout the taping of TUF4, Serra’s never say die attitude had become a big part of his appeal to the fans. He worked hard for both himself and his team and his prize for winning the show was a shot at the French Canadian. As he made his way into the arena it was clear he was determined to make this opportunity count. Serra came in at +850, nearly 9/1, against St Pierre which still remains some of the longest odds ever given to a UFC fighter.

As the fight began it was a much nervier opening than a lot of people had predicted. Serra and GSP both stayed on the outside and threw speculative shots. It was clear that Serra was not overwhelmed by St Pierre and as each second ticked on he seemed to find more and more confidence as he threw effective leg kicks and body shots. The round continued on and just when it seemed that George was about to find his “rhythm” he was clipped by an overhand right that seemed to completely shatter his equilibrium.  Serra seemed almost in disbelief for a second but soon looked to maintain the pressure as St Pierre backed up and looked for some respite.

Serra sensed his foe was hurt and quickly landed more and more punches until a thunderous right hand took the young champion clean off his feet. It was all the arena could do not to explode as Matt Serra, the 19/2 underdog, took the mount position and unleashed a barrage of punches which forced the champion to tap out.
It was a moment that will surely live forever in the history of the sport.

The fans celebrated their new champion who, with a mixture of indomitable spirit and likeable demeanour, had won both the hearts of the mma community and the UFC welterweight title. Even Serra himself looked somewhat surprised when Dana White wrapped the belt around his waist and Bruce Buffer announced him as the champion.

Why do the fight public love an underdog? In many ways because it is a position that anyone can relate to. Most people have, at one time, been put in a position where the odds were stacked against them and can empathise with a fighter who seems to be overmatched. Upset victories are the cornerstone of millions of books, films and screenplays the world over simply because they represent a triumph of the human spirit.

Mixed martial arts will always have shocks as long as the margin between success and failure is defined by the thickness of a 4oz glove. I’ll finish with a question. How many Rocky films have you seen? If it’s a number between one and six then I’m sure you’ll understand why the underdog will always be the most intriguing and entertaining concept in the fight game today and why the fight community will always embrace a fighter who battles the odds as well as his opponent.

Competition News - I'd buy that for a dollar

It's odd how I've been doing nothing but playing videogames and watching MMA and it still doesn't feel enough. There is an epic ammount of mma on in the next few weeks and I've got so many things to write up so please keep on reading and getting involved. It's awesome to see how many more people are reading this blog and now with the stats that I can properly monitor just where everything comes from.

It blew my mind when I saw that people from all over the world were taking the time to hit up this blog that started as a crazy idea one day when I waiting for my friend Tran to come round. It's funny how things happen.

Anyhow to the matter in hand, I had this idea today about giving something back to the people who read the blog so I came up with this. I'm going to get a few of the shirts made and then I'm going to do a UFC 118 prediction competition. I'll work out a system nearer the time but you'll need to pick winner, method and round for each fight and get points for all of them. You'll also have to pick a time for the main event finishing, which will only be used in the event of a tie break.

Thanks again for taking the time to read and there's all kinds of good stuff to come in the next few days so come get involved; who knows, you might just win something.

Take Care

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Igor Vovchanchyn - Lethal Weapon of the North

This artlicle was featured in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Magazine.

Pride FC truly gave the mma community some of the most subliminal moments in combat sport history. Anybody who was fortunate to witness Pride at its apex can usually recount a selection of encounters with a certain degree of fondness. The larger than life nature of the Godzilla culture seemed to combine perfectly with warrior spirit that Pride’s fighters seemed to embody. They truly were the world warriors; more Street Fighter 2 than street fighters.

After Zuffa bought out Pride and quickly began stripping the assets it was clear that times had changed. Dana negotiated, both successfully and unsuccessfully, with the fighters he was interested in and once the dust had settled all that was left was memories. The legacy of Pride FC still lives on today as we see fighters who once fought there still an active part of the mma landscape.

The likes of Anderson Silva, Shogun Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, Quinton Jackson, the Nogueira brothers and Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic have all had varying degrees of success in the UFC. The enigma that is Fedor Emelianenko continues to defeat all who face him and evade the grasp of Dana and the Fertittas whereas others like Alistair Overeem fight between Dream and Strikeforce.

Of all of the fighters who fought under the Pride banner there were few who commanded the respect of fighters, fans and analysts alike quite like Igor “Ice Cold” Vovchanchyn.

Igor Yaroslavovich Vovchanchyn was born in Zolochiv, Ukraine on August 6, 1973. As an adolescent Igor quickly showed athletic potential but struggled to find the right avenues to channel it. It became urban legend that Igor’s temper was so fierce that whenever he was in a bad mood the local villagers would ring a church bell to warn people about the danger of confronting him.

Igor was initially interested in track events but when he became involved in kickboxing it became apparent he had enormous potential. The young Vovchanchyn was a natural fighter and was able to harness his incredible power, often with devastating consequences. He soon became the Russian Kickboxing champion amassing an impressive 61-2 fight record which helped to build his growing reputation as “The Ukraine Freight Train”.

1995 would prove to be a pivotal year in the career of Vovchanchyn. The UFC had bought mixed martial arts into the mainstream consciousness and the rest of the world was quick to capitalise on this exposure. Coming off winning the world kickboxing championships in Moscow, Igor would make his mixed martial arts debut at UCMAL – Warrior’s Honour 1 in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Igor would make his mma debut against grappler Alexander Mandrik and would claim his first victory just 3 minutes into the first round as a barrage of punches resulted in a quick tap out. He would make it to the final of that tournament but was eventually submitted by Andrei Besedin. Igor would go on to develop his ground fighting skills as his career progressed but his first love would always be his legendary punching power.

Igor was able to rack up a huge number of wins in these early tournament events, often fighting three or even four times in one night. At the inaugural Absolute Fighting Championships event he was drawn to fight Gracie black belt Adilson Lima. The fight would last less than a minute as Igor won by a soccer kick but Lima’s corner men argued that kicks to downed opponents were unfair and began demanding an immediate rematch. Lima and Vovchanchyn both agreed to this rematch and the officials granted this request and the two would fight again. Lima lasted nearly two minutes this time but suffered a broken nose and the Igor was given the win by TKO. In the final bout of this competition Igor would lose to Mikhail Illoukhine but it would prove to be a temporary setback as he began on one of the longest winning streaks in mixed martial arts history.

For the next 3 years Igor Vovchanchyn continued to fight and improve but more importantly he continued to win and impress. He would compete in several of the multi fight tournaments that he had originally cut his teeth in and would fight anyone that the organizers could put in front of him all with the same result. It seemed nobody could stop him.

Following on from winning the World Vale Tudo Championships in late 1998 Igor received an invitation to fight in Japan for a newly launched promotion that was clearly picking up momentum. He duly accepted and made his debut for Pride FC against UFC veteran Gary Goodridge. Both fighters had stand up pedigree but it was the wrestling prowess of Goodridge that allowed him to dictate the pace of the fight initially as he scored two good takedowns. Vovchanchyn showed good composure in the face of such adversity and when the two were stood back up was able to land a shot that rattled his opponent. Goodridge looked out on his feet and it was all he could do to cover up while Vovchanchyn forced the stoppage with an onslaught of strikes.

Igor became an instant favourite in Japan and was quickly dubbed “Ice Cold” for his in ring demeanour. He would go on to defeat Akira Shoji, Carlos Barreto and Mark Kerr but the fight with Kerr was declared a no contest as it was won by knees to the head of a grounded opponent which had recently been illegalised. The fans were enamoured by Igor’s fights but they were yet to see him unleash his full destructive potential. His next fight against Francisco Bueno would give the fans and the highlight reel makers something to talk about. Bueno clearly respected the punching power of his foe and looked to circle away at every opportunity. Vovchanchyn threw an overhand right which put the lights out in a hurry and his foe fell lifelessly to the canvas, the dictionary definition of ‘out before he hit the floor’.

This explosive form earned Igor an invitation the 2000 Pride Grand Prix which he went into as a favourite. Igor defeated Japanese fighter Alexander Otsuka in the qualifying rounds and was drawn to fight Gary Goodridge at the next Pride event. The quarter finals, semis and the final would all take place on the same night. This was a concern to some fighters but was clearly not a problem to Vovchanchyn who had fought in numerous tournaments all over the world.

Igor would defeat Gary Goodridge once again by TKO and would also force Japanese legend Kazushi Sakuraba’s corner to throw in the towel which would book his place in the finals. These lengthy fights, however, had clearly taken a toll on Igor. He made his way to the finals to fight UFC champion Mark Coleman who had received a bye in the semi finals due to an injury. Coleman looked the fresher fighter and was able to wear Igor down and score a win in the second round with a TKO victory. It marked the end of a phenomenal winning streak as it was the first time that Vovchanchyn had been defeated in over 4 years but it proved to be merely the start of his career with Pride FC.

Igor’s next fight would be only 5 weeks after his epic battle at the Grand Prix as he took on Daijiro Matsui. Vovchanchyn would force a doctor’s stoppage in the first round and over the next 5 years would fight for Pride on no less than 15 occasions defeating the likes of Valentijn Overeem, Gilbert Yvel, Mark Kerr and Japanese legend Nobuhiko Takada.

In 2005 it would be another Pride tournament that would attract the attention of the Ukranian. He made the cut to 205lbs to fight in the middleweight grand prix. Vovchanchyn looked a different fighter at a lighter weight and many speculated that if he could retain his knockout power he would truly be a force to be reckoned with. He was matched up with Pancrase and UFC veteran Yuki Kondo at Pride Total Elimination 2005. It was a back and forth contest but Igor was able to take a much deserved unanimous decision victory.

The fans were happy to see Vovchanchyn win and his match up with Dutch kick boxer Alistair Overeem was eagerly anticipated. In a fight of two seasoned strikers it was ironic that it would finish on a submission as Overeem wrapped up his trademark guillotine for a quick win. Vovchanchyn was clearly disappointed with his performance and jumped at the chance to fight for the position of alternate in the finals of the event. It would prove to be his last fight for Pride as he dropped a unanimous decision to Kazuhiro Nakamura bowing out of the organisation and also the sport.

Igor Vovchanchyn retired at the age of 32 with an impressive 49-10-1 record and the admiration of mixed martial arts fans all over the world. After his retirement there were a lot of rumours about his return and when Zuffa acquired Pride it added more fuel to the fire. Igor was adamant however that he would not return, a long career of fighting in the early days of the sport had left him with several injuries.

Sure I think about it every once in a while but the main problem is the injuries. I can’t even strike with my right hand; I’ve got 3 screws in my right elbow and one in my left.

To long time fans of the sport the name of Igor Vovchanchyn will always be synonymous with explosive knockouts and the ice cold attitude that he took to all his fights. Over his career he fought the very best in the world and left a trail of destruction in his wake that few will ever forget.

Harold Howard - If you're coming on

This article was featured in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Magazine. Once again, just for details, I wrote this article back in 2009.

If Dana White’s prophecies are to be believed then the mixed martial arts revolution is far from over. The UFC and other organizations continue to grow and attract fans from both pro wrestling and boxing circles. If this growth continues the mainstream saturation of the sport is surely inevitable. In years to come people will look back on the likes of Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez in the way that the current fight public looks at Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie. Royce Gracie tore through the early UFC competition but most people still believe that the first loss on his record was to Kazushi Sakuraba in Pride. What most people don’t realise is that Gracie had a loss on his record before that fight and it was to Canadian slugger Harold Howard.

Harold Howard was the embodiment of the early days of the UFC. He came to see how far his discipline of martial arts would carry him in this new form of total fighting. His black belt in Goju-ryu karate and title as the first ever World Sport jiu-jitsu champion proved that he certainly had the credentials. Howard worked, like a lot of martial artists did, as a doorman in the evenings but it was his ferocity on the point fighting karate scene that quickly earned him his reputation.

Howard had seen the first few UFC events and was fascinated by Royce Gracie and his suffocating jiu-jitsu. It was at UFC 3 – The American Dream that we first got to see Howard in action. SEG sports had personally invited him to compete in the tournament after hearing of his reputation on the martial arts circuit. Harold took the opportunity in a flash and soon he found himself warming up backstage in the Grady Cole Centre in North Carolina waiting to make his debut. After a now famous promo in which he said “We have a saying back home that if you’re coming on... COME ON!” it was time. Howard was matched up with Roland Payne; a man nicknamed “Shins of Steel”. Payne was an experienced full contact kick boxer and a dangerous opponent for anyone, let alone someone making their full contact debut.

The bell rang and both fighters quickly took the middle of the Octagon and began exchanging punches. After some frantic grappling in which both men reversed several situations it was Payne who took the advantage and backed Howard up with several hard kicks to the body. It would be the aggression of Payne that would prove to be his undoing, however, as Howard landed a beautiful right hand that knocked his foe to the floor. He followed up with some ground and pound but this fight was over and the crowd were impressed by the Canadian’s 46 second victory. Harold went backstage to catch his breath and prepare for his next bout but it was now that the complications would arise.

Howard had been drawn against Gracie and in his promos for the event he had talked at length about how he was looking forward to competing against the Brazilian. Kimo Leopoldo, however, had other ideas. He was to be the first fighter to challenge Gracie that night and although he was submitted after nearly five minutes it was a gruelling match up that would leave Gracie in no shape to continue. Royce Gracie’s undefeated run in the UFC was over as his team threw in the towel at the start of the match and Harold Howard moved into the finals.

Howard was left in a difficult position not knowing who he would face and, as a result of this, having no way to formulate any kind of game plan. In one of the more questionable decisions in UFC history, Howard was matched up with a substitute who only needed to beat him to win the tournament. Steve Jennum, a police officer, was a dangerous and well rounded fighter but it didn’t stop Howard attempting an audacious rolling axe kick at the start of the bout.

It was in keeping with the aggressive unpredictability that Howard bought to the cage and would go on to be copied by modern day fighters like Dustin Hazelett and Miguel Torres. Jennum managed to neutralise his opponent early on with a nice takedown and proceeded to pound away at Howard until the bout was stopped. It was a disappointing end to the night for Howard who had made such a huge impression on the fans and the other fighters with his opening destruction of Roland Payne.

Harold Howard was gracious in defeat however and famously said “Well, I told you, if it worked it worked. But it did and I didn't. So in the end it didn't.” He had won fans with his gutsy displays in the cage and his gracious attitude outside of it. He was invited back to compete in UFC 7 and this time he came in much better physical shape but mentally he seemed to lack the killer instinct that he had shown previously. He was battling a lot of personal problems and was beaten by Mark Hall in a very dominating fashion. He would only have one more mma bout; a loss against Brazilian veteran Hugo Duarte.

Away from the spotlight Howard was a simple man and worked hard to support his family. Despite a near fatal accident where he was hit by a car he continues to work hard and is proud of the accomplishments that his family have made. Howard’s two sons both play hockey but more importantly are proud to learn their father’s martial art. Harold himself runs a small school called Howard’s Self Defence Systems and is a regular on the seminar scene whilst still doing his day to day job of roofing. According to Harold it’s something he’s always had a passion for:

It goes along with the ancient stuff I like to mess around with. The technique is so old, it’s high work. I’ve always liked working up high.”

Harold Howard is respected amongst the MMA community for his colourful persona outside of the cage and his steely resolve inside it. It is a testament to his cult appeal that the biggest cheer at the recent Ultimate Fight Night weigh ins was for Tom Lawlor who turned up with the trademark Harold Howard tracksuit bottoms, black belt and white vest. For Howard it was clear that his initial fights in the UFC had answered nearly all of the questions he had. He had not come to be a celebrity or to learn from different teachers, he had simply come to fight. 

Anderson Silva - Legends of the Cage

This article was featured in the July 2010 issue of Fighters Magazine. Just for details I wrote this article back in 2009 before Anderson fought Demian Maia.

In this day and age of internet highlight reels and the mixed martial arts revolution it’s arguably a lot easier than it once was to build a reputation. String a few knockouts together, loop them over some heavy metal and finish with a black and white slow motion shot and you’re on your way. The YouTube generation elevated Kimbo Slice to stardom after a few backyard brawls but the facade of his highlight reel toughness soon fell when he was knocked out by Seth Petruzelli. 

It may be easier to make a name these days, but it remains true that legends will be remembered for their actions in battle rather than the hype that surrounds them. It is very rare that a fighter comes along who changes preconceptions about the sport and forces people to rethink. Every sport has its pioneers, who changed the face of their discipline and made the impossible possible. One such athlete is Anderson Silva.

Anderson Da Silva was born on April 14th 1975 in Sao Paulo Brazil but moved north to Curitiba when he was just five years old. His mother was struggling to raise him in Sao Paulo so his aunt and uncle took him back to Curitiba to give him a better chance. Even to this day Silva is forever in debt to this generosity and always thanks his aunt and uncle for giving him the morals and standards that he lives his life by. Anderson was, by all accounts, a very active child who loved superheroes and comic books and famously once jumped off a lamp post, trying to fly, after watching Superman.

It wasn’t until Anderson turned 14 that he began his path to martial arts greatness. Silva is a lifelong Bruce Lee fan and he is quick to admit that one of the main reasons for starting training martial arts was to be like “a combination of Bruce Lee and the superheroes.” He had studied Taekwondo periodically but it was by chance that he found Muay Thai. He accompanied his cousin Elson Cardoso to Muay Thai classes and the young Silva began absorbing all that he saw. His cousins taught him a few moves and Anderson was very quick to pick them up and perfect them.

Silva would go on to collect a black belt in Taekwondo, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in later life, but it was his love of Muay Thai that would help create the monster that he would become. Over the coming years, Anderson Silva would go on to win numerous Muay Thai honours and even began fighting as a professional boxer in 1998 but it was a local promotion that first gave Anderson a chance to compete in the sport that he would go on to change so much.

Meca: World Vale Tudo was truly a grassroots promotion in Brazil. Fighters from all over the world went on to compete in that promotion that was run by the founders of the legendary Chute Boxe camp Rudimar Fedrigo and Rafael Cordeiro. Fighters like the Rua brothers, Wanderlei Silva and Cyborg Santos all honed their craft at Meca, and all went on to compete at the highest level. It was during this time that Anderson’s relationship with the Chute Boxe camp developed and he would go on to become one of the integral members. Chute Boxe had a reputation of breeding killers, their training sessions were legendarily tough and all their fighters fought with a level of intensity that was unmatched.

Anderson, although losing his MMA debut to Luiz Azeredo, went on to win all the rest of his fights for Meca and attracted the attention of the Japanese promotion Shooto. Silva would conquer then undefeated middleweight champion Hayato Sakurai and, in doing this, acquired both the attention and the respect of the Japanese public. One year later in 2002 Anderson Silva was once again preparing to fight on Japanese soil but for a different promotion.

Pride Fighting Championships had been the home to some of the most memorable fights in recent years and a number of Silva’s Chute Boxe team mates had been making big waves for the promotion. Wanderlei Silva had been amazing Japanese fans with his ferocity and berserker like attitude for a while and it was interesting to see how Anderson Silva took a different approach to MMA. Anderson fought his fights like a surgeon, picking the perfect time to destroy his opponents with pinpoint accuracy. His first fight in Pride saw him take on Lion’s Den veteran Alex “Brazilian Killer” Steibling who was coming in with tremendous momentum. It took Silva just 83 seconds to land a series of powerful shots and a head kick that just about took Steibling’s head clean off. The doctors stopped the fight due to a series of nasty cuts that Steibling has sustained during this encounter. Anderson would continue to fight for Pride losing only twice in two years but his victories were some of the most resounding ever seen. He stopped former UFC titleholder Carlos Newton with a beautifully timed flying knee and received offers from many promotions all over the world.

Anderson Silva left Chute Boxe in 2003 to form the Muay Thai Dream Team and it wasn’t the only significant move he would make. Silva made the trip to the UK where he soundly defeated Lee Murray to win the Cage Rage middleweight title. He would defend that belt 3 times but it was his third defence that ignited the world of mixed martial arts in debate. Silva had stopped UFC veterans Jorge Rivera and Curtis Stout but it was a fight with wrestling standout Tony “The Freak” Fryklund that he would truly showcase his amazing skills.

It was a typically dominant performance from Silva as he out struck Fryklund with a Muay Thai master class of knees, kicks and punches. Just two minutes into the fight Anderson backed his opponent up and then threw a hooking elbow uppercut that knocked Fryklund clean out. The fight world had never seen anything like the conclusion to that fight and I challenge anyone to watch that fight and not be amazed by it. Anderson Silva was proving that when he said “I believe I can do things that other people think are impossible”, he truly meant it.

With Silva’s fierce reputation and his impressive 15-4 record it was only a matter of time before he garnered the interest of Dana White and the UFC. Anderson Silva came into the UFC with a reputation known to the mixed martial arts community but not necessarily to the American fight audience. He was put straight into a main event slot on UFC Ultimate Fight Night 5 against tough brawler Chris Leben. The TUF graduate had been stirring the pot even before the fight began saying that Anderson would get his jaw broken and then retreat back to Japan where the competition was easier. Leben had tremendous momentum and, coming into the clash on June 28th 2006, was a favourite to win in the eyes of the American public.

As he so often had done in the past, Silva made the improbable seem easy as he demolished Leben in just 49 seconds. Chris Leben had never been stopped in sixteen professional fights but was no match for the sniper-like Silva. Anderson threw 19 shots during that fight and connected with every single one, finishing off with a huge knee from the clinch that sent Leben tumbling to the ground. Silva later went on to say he taught Chris Leben “a lesson in respect” following his pre fight interview trash talking. One thing, however, was clear. Anderson Silva had arrived in the UFC.

The following weeks saw a poll on the UFC website to see who dominant champion Rich Franklin should face next. The poll was merely done to gauge public interest but the UFC saw such phenomenal support for Silva that they were moved to put that match up together. Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin would square off at UFC 64 in October 2006. Franklin was coming in off a convincing victory over David Loiseau and had only lost once in his career to future UFC champion Lyoto Machida. Even coming off his demolition of Chris Leben, Silva was still a huge underdog in the eyes of the bookmakers due to the dominance that Franklin had shown in the UFC. Nobody was prepared for just how easy Anderson Silva would make his craft seem.

He picked Franklin apart with strikes and when the champion looked to move to the inside, Silva delivered one of the most painful demonstrations of the Muay Thai clinch the fight world had ever seen. Anderson peppered the ribs of Franklin with knees from every angle until it was clear his foe was hurt. Silva once again sought the clinch and Franklin instinctively put an arm down to try and cover his hurt ribs. Silva fired a knee straight to the head of Franklin which broke his nose in several places. It was all Franklin could do to stagger backwards and take more big shots before the referee stepped in. Anderson fell to the floor in tears. The realisation of the dream that had started on the streets of Curitiba had finally happened.

Over the next few months Anderson Silva went on to join the fearsome Black House team, whose ranks included Lyoto Machida, Vitor Belfort and the Nogueira brothers, and looked to defend his title. Silva would submit BJJ black belt Travis Lutter, brutally knock out Pancrase champion Nate Marquart and once again defeat Rich Franklin in his next three fights. With each performance Silva set the bar higher and higher. The flurry that he finished Rich Franklin within their rematch remains one of the most brilliant technical displays of striking in mixed martial arts history. When the UFC acquired Pride, it was clear that the already heaving ranks of the company would be further expanded by new talent. Of all the acquisitions that the UFC made, one stood out as a threat to Anderson Silva’s belt.

Dan Henderson was an Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler who had seen been fighting MMA for nearly eleven years. He had gained fame as the only man in Pride history to hold two consecutive title belts in different weight categories and was coming from Pride having knocked out Anderson’s former team mate Wanderlei Silva. Dan Henderson and Anderson Silva were matched up in a unification bout at UFC 82: Pride of a Champion. Henderson seemed to have a lot of tools that would give Silva, or indeed anyone, a lot of problems. He had knock out power in his punches and was a ferocious wrestler and for the first round of their title bout he was able to take Silva down and control him. At the end of the round everyone couldn’t believe that Silva had lost a round in the UFC. The only person not worried by it was Silva himself. He once again proved his pedigree by picking his time to strike, rattling Henderson with powerful punches and knees before taking him down and securing a rear naked choke in the second round. Silva was literally on top of the world. He was undefeated in the UFC and widely regarded as one of the best pound for pound fighters in history but the challenges were only going to get bigger from this point.

Silva’s next fight would be at 205lbs against knock out artist James Irvin. Irvin had a fierce reputation and a reel of explosive finishes and Silva had taken this fight at a higher weight category to test himself against the bigger stronger fighters in the UFC. The fight lasted just over a minute as Silva caught a kick that Irvin threw and duly countered with a piston-like right hand that sent his opponent reeling to the canvas in obvious pain.

No-one in the arena looked more shocked than James Irvin as Silva reigned down shots to finish the fight. Anderson had destroyed a much bigger and stronger adversary with his devastating striking and following on from this would go on to defeat Patrick Cote and Thales Leites at Middleweight to defend his crown. Silva broke Royce Gracie’s record for most consecutive wins in the UFC with the Leites fight and, although he drew criticism for his cautious performance, it was clear that he was capable of stepping in the cage with anyone the UFC could throw at him.

Certainly the biggest test for Anderson Silva would take place at UFC 101 in August of this year. Anderson once again moved up to light heavyweight to take on former champion Forrest Griffin. Griffin’s heart has never been questioned and the sheer size and power that he presented were going to create unique problems for Silva. Fans of the UFC and Anderson Silva were getting used to expecting the unexpected but the shockwaves that were sent through the fight community after this performance were colossal. In one of the most amazing displays in living memory Anderson Silva destroyed Forrest Griffin in a little over three minutes.

Griffin could not get anywhere near Silva who fought half of the fight with his hands by his waists and dodged attacks simply with footwork and head movement. Forrest, and the rest of the world, looked bewildered by this display. Anderson eventually dispatched his adversary with a jab as he walked backwards avoiding all attacks coming his way. The fans and critics alike were speechless as Silva had once again made the extraordinary seem ordinary. It was a performance that perfectly summed up Anderson Silva. He will always be the Muay Thai sniper, dispatching his pray with laser precision and making the illogical logical.

Anderson Silva has stated his desire to retire from the sport in 2010 and, at present, has three more fights remaining on his current UFC contract. His next fight is speculated to be against former Black House team mate Vitor Belfort but, as yet, this has not been confirmed. Silva will always be remembered as a legend in the sport of MMA because of both his achievements and his unique approach. Nobody can deny the influence that Silva has had but perhaps the greatest accolade that can be paid to him is that he has indeed become the combination of Bruce Lee and superhero that he once dreamed of being as a boy in Curitiba.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Make promise, keep promise

A truly epic weekend before I recap I've got to say thanks to the following people.

Andy Sledge - Thanks for booking me to judge at Shoot and Sprawl in Northampton, it was an amazing show and I can't ever see me getting an easier judging gig than that. 11 fights, 9 finishes, enough said.

Dean Williamson - I've watched Chuck Liddell fight for longer than I care to remember but it was amazing to get the chance to meet and train with him. Thanks to Dean for the opportunity to train with a legend and to contribute to MMA Digital which I'll give you the details of as soon as I know.

Last weekend summed up why I've known for a long time that I needed to get involved with MMA and as I'm afforded more and more chances to work in this amazing sport I'm continually reminded how lucky I am.

Anyhow, this has all gone far too emotional. To restore the usual manliness quota round here I'm off to fight with a selection of dangerous animals. I will speak to you good people very soon as I've got many more updates to share in the upcoming weeks.

Take Care

Friday, 16 July 2010

The riddle of steel

One of the awesome things about doing this blog is getting to chat to people I've watched fight on the net and on television.

It makes me sound such a fanboy but speaking to real fighters and seeing what makes them tick is something that I don't think I'll ever grow tired of.

I was so happy to see that the UFC had given Tim Boetsch another fight. It was in typical "Barbarian" fashion that he jumped all over the opportunity. We will see how the fight goes down in just a few short weeks.

I got the chance to chat with Tim about UFC 117, Thiago Silva and his Jeet Kune Do roots and the good folks at MMA Hit Pit have once again done me the honour of publishing it.

Thanks very much to all involved and a special thanks to Tim Boetsch for taking the time to chat and being a nice guy in general.

Speak soon

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Who turned out the lights

Ahh Couture vs Toney. I'm kinda half excited and half curious as to see just how this is going to go down?

It's hard to think that we'll see anything other than a replay of Art Jimmerson vs Royce Gracie minus the one boxing glove but it remains to be seen.

I'm not going to write off Toney's chances just yet but he's going to have a boat load of issues with Randy.

Anyhow check out my article on this topic which is up at the minute on MMA Hit Pit, props once again to Del for posting this up.

Thanks once again for visiting, reading and getting involved. Comments are fixed now so you can leave them anonymously by clicking the link at the bottom of the article.

Take good care and don't be a stranger.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Don't make me angry, you wouldn't like me when I'm angry

Sometimes the hardest tests in life are the ones that you see coming. Everyone knew that Carwin had nuclear punching power and would be looking to decapitate Lesnar but it didn't make this fight predictable. I had very few questions of Brock before this fight but they were all answered in emphatic fashion.

Can Brock Lesnar take a punch?

Yes he can. 61 of them to be precise.

If 61 strikes from Shane Carwin don't knock you out I'm lost as to think of what actually will. I heard a few people saying they should have stopped it but I completely disagree. You're going to stop a heavyweight title fight when a guy takes a few shots? That's why we have referees like Josh Rosenthal, Herb Dean and Marc Goddard who clearly understand the intricacies of the fight game. At no point watching the fight did I fear for the safety of Brock Lesnar. I think the fact he was bleeding a little bit added to the hysteria of it all in some eyes but I was extremely impressed by Josh Rosenthal and his performance.

What is Brock Lesnar like on his back?

It's harder to gauge this one as the time he spent on his back he was under a siege of strikes from Carwin but overall I think he did what he had to do from this position. He covered well and waited for his time to explode out. There's a time and a place for a technical half guard but when the man in that technical half guard is Shane Carwin you've got to look at your options. Brock weathered the early storm and was able to get up when his moment arrived.

Who's next for Brock Lesnar?

Dana confirmed that one and the 'lucky' recipient of Lesnar's attention will be Cain Velasquez. This match up presents us with another series of questions that I look forward to finding out the answers to. Cain won't gas out after he throws 61 strikes that's for sure, he hit 262 against Kongo and that was 12 months ago. Interestingly if Brock gets past Cain he'll fight the winner of Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson. I see Junior winning that one but just imagine if Roy Nelson wins and so does Brock. Nelson vs. Lesnar? I can only imagine how they'd market that one. Greek God vs. Burger King maybe?

In short Lesnar impressed me. His battle with illness has forged him into a much humbler champion, I think in all honesty it was simply Frank Mir that got into Brock's head at UFC 100. Brock raised the hand of Carwin and admitted that he'd taken some hard shots from his foe. He showed a much improved game both in the face in adversity and in his grappling ability. To sum up I'll leave you with one thought. If someone had told you that Brock Lesnar would have been hit 61 times by Shane Carwin in the first round and then have gone on to submit him in the second, would you have believed them?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Gym of the Month - Sukata MMA

One of the most awesome things about commentating shows is seeing fighters from hundreds of different gyms. It's so inspiring to see the rate that the sport is developing in this country and the facilities that are available to more and more people.
After commentating Cage Control 1 recently there was one name that was in my mind for days. This was partially because of how everyone was chanting it after each fighter emerged from the back, but mostly because I was impressed by just how committed all of these fighters were.
As the chants of "SU-KA-TA, SU-KA-TA", rang out that night I knew straight away this had Gym of the Month written all over it. I had a chance to chat with Gary Savage, the head coach of Sukata MMA Blackpool, about the gym and his aspirations for the future.

What was your first involvement with mixed martial arts?

That would have to be very early on in my life. My dad was an ex unarmed combat instructor in the British Army. He taught me from an early age that you had to be adept in striking and grappling and in the importance of mixing the arts to suit the situation, he used to say that ‘karate is no good if you are in a phone box and can’t kick or punch’ sounds strange now as karate was the first formal martial art I got graded in, and as all I cared about was becoming the next Bruce Lee and loved to kick, my answer was to avoid phone boxes. I was lucky in that I had my dad to keep me grounded (literally), he encouraged my karate and was proud of my early achievements but he always challenged my thinking. Our regular ‘play fights’ always seemed to end the same way, me, on the deck, the old fella having taken me to the floor and the imprint of his carpet slipper across my throat, happy days.

I later studied Japanese Jujitsu and it was around the time I was a purple belt that I saw the first UFC where Royce Gracie turned the martial arts world on its head, I had at this time been training in martial arts for twenty plus years, but that image of this slight Brazilian beating all of his larger and more ferocious looking opponents with relative ease really caught my imagination. I was lucky in that my sensei at the time Trevor Cunningham had a passion for the Ne waza (ground fighting) aspect of our art and we rolled loads in class, even before we knew any formal BJJ.

I continued in my training and competed in kumite jujitsu events, these were probably the forerunner to MMA comps in this country, you could punch, kick, grapple, go for Subs and throw and they could be blood baths, the only difference was they were on Mats and there were point systems in place, but I excelled in competition and ended up winning The North of England Open Championships. I still wanted to learn real BJJ though and had grown tired of the ‘unrealistic’ aspects of the Japanese jujitsu; all I wanted to do was fight. I started my own gym and focused on learning BJJ. In those days a real Brazilian jiu-jitsu Black belt was as rare as rocking horse shit in the UK, so I read any books and any courses that were going I attended.

Carley Gracie, Renzo Gracie and later Royce all visited the UK and I was there eager to learn at the feet of the masters. I went back to my gym and trained three to four times a day and then entered my first BJJ comp in London, I feel both blessed and cursed in that my first opponent was the legendary Rick Young. Rick nearly took my arm home in a bag as a trophy that day but it didn’t matter, the seed was there, I loved it. The next year I won my first Brazilian Jiu-jitsu European gold medal. I continued to fight in any MMA type comps and submission wrestling and did well in those also.

After a few years of trying to go it alone and feeling a distinct lack of progress I started training under my instructor, the world renowned Mario Sukata and have never looked back.
These days I concentrate on competing in BJJ and have most recently won the European championships held in Switzerland in 2009, sorry if the answer was brief Ben, what was the question?

Briefly explain the history of the gym.

The Gym opened in November 2008 as Sukata MMA, prior to this I had run an MMA gym with my long time friend and training partner Paul Rice, we wanted things to move in slightly different directions and I decided to go it alone and Sukata MMA was born. I then set about bringing in other coaches to make the gym complete and to cover all areas.

What is your vision for the gym?

My vision has always been to develop the talents of the team by offering the best coaching available, I didn’t want any of the lads having to go through my own experience of trying to teach myself, I knew that you could only go so far that way, now we have an array of top quality coaches available but it doesn’t get any better than Mario Sukata, the man is a legend, but I am happy with all of the Sukata Coaches, everyone contributes so much.

I wanted, in simple terms, a place where people can learn MMA, BJJ, or Thai or Western Boxing without the need for unhealthy egos, where you can make some of the best friends and train for your own reasons, we have more occupations than the Freemasons at my gym, people from diverse backgrounds, but the one thing we really are proud of is that all are treated equally regardless, and rightly so.

Who are the coaches and what are their backgrounds?

Brazilian Jiu-jitsu coach Mario Sukata is the figure head. Mario is well known in the UK as the head coach of the world famous Wolfslair MMA Academy in Widnes, He is a Black belt under the legendary Carlson Gracie, and is a Brazilian, international and European Jiu-jitsu champion. Mario became famous after the opponent of Dan the Beast Severn pulled out of a bare knuckle Vale Tudo match in Brazil. Not wanting to look silly the organisers asked if anyone was willing to take the fight, there and then.

Mario was very young; I think 17 at the time and stepped up. The fight lasted for over an hour and no one could win, but because Mario showed such heart against a heavier and at the time vastly more experienced fighter the crowd really got behind him. In the end Severn won by judges’ decision, but Mario became famous in his country as a result. Mario has also fought in The UFC and was grappling coach on the Ultimate Fighter UK v USA. Mario tries to get to the Gym as many Saturdays as his schedule allows teaching BJJ and submission wrestling. I am a Brown Belt in BJJ and teach BJJ Gi and no gi and MMA through the week, you have already had my life story ha.

Tom Hanlon holds a purple belt in BJJ and is my right hand man, he teaches at Sukata Preston as well as assisting me at the main academy. Tom started in karate but took to BJJ like a duck to water and has done brilliantly on the BJJ and Sub grappling circuit, he just won his first semi pro MMA fight at Cage Control 1 by way of arm bar, brilliant prospect and a top bloke. In addition to Tom, for BJJ and grappling there is Neil Pimlott and Mark Porter, both have recently been awarded their Purple belts from Mario. Both fantastic ground fighters and teachers and both very loyal to the Sukata name.

We also have the Polish sensation, Daniel Kwapitz. Dan is an excellent blue belt and assists me with some classes and seminars. Leeroy Barnes started off as a student at Sukata and then got a professional contract with the Wolfslair, Leeroy heads up the MMA fight training and is also a great asset to the team, he teaches once a week at the academy.

Now to the striking coaches, We have always been seen as more of a BJJ gym that had MMA, I wanted to change that so I brought in two fantastic coaches, the first to arrive was Andy Brownbridge, Andy is a very forward thinking coach who knows Muay Thai and kickboxing inside out, he has transformed our Thai boxing as anyone who saw the brutal Muay Thai kicks dished out by Big Dazza Williamson at Cage Control will testify, especially his opponent. Andy and I were the Team UK ISKA MMA coaches and trained the winning team in Rome; we have known each other for years and work well together.

The newest addition to the coaching staff has been a revelation; I had heard the name Alan Levene from several of my friends in the boxing community but had never met him. Alan is the most gifted boxing coach I have seen, he is able to break down specific elements of his art into the minutest detail and convey it with passion and enthusiasm that is contagious to all, always the sign of a great coach. The Boxing at Sukata will have to be watched in the future as Alan brings his skills to the team. All in all we seem to have all areas covered Ben.

What range of classes does the gym offer?

We teach BJJ, MMA, Wrestling for MMA, Thai Boxing, and Boxing. The only area I feel is missing is some English martial influence, maybe if there is a Morris dancing coach out there you could drop us a line, or maybe a bell is more in keeping.

As more and more MMA gyms open up over the coming months what do you feel is unique about the gym?

We are all very handsome people. We have the nicest cauliflower ears. Seriously, some of the other gyms coaches try to do everything themselves, I am the first to say I am not the Academy’s best boxer so why would I teach my students to box, stick to what you do and give your team and members the best options available. Some coaches are motivated by money, and some are motivated by ego, both of these motivations are pretty unhealthy in my view.

What is the most gruelling training session that the gym currently runs?

That’s a good question; I think that is down to the individual to answer, some find the grappling classes hard. I, being a grappler, find the stand up classes hardest on my old body, especially Mr Levene’s ton up at the end of the boxing session.

How would you sum the gym up in a sentence?

Blackpool’s MMA Rock: A great place to get acquainted.

What are the plans for the gym for the future?

Jamie Edmonds the MMA coach at Sukata/first dojo Lytham is opening a brand new state of the art facility at the start of September that promises to be a fantastic place to train, and in addition I am upgrading my own gym with a half cage in the near future. With all this going on we are planning to take the MMA and BJJ world by storm, we have some great up and coming fighters to watch out for who have stepped up recently, so watch this space.

Is there anyone that you'd like to thank or give a shout out to?

First off a shout to all of our Sukata Brothers and Sisters, Sukata Preston, Lytham, Kojaks BJJ in Warrington, Sukata BJJ Shropshire/team Spartans, all of the guys and gals of Sukata Blackpool, Mario and Freddy Sukata, all the coaches at team Sukata. I’d like to thank Daz Dickinson for sponsorship and you, Ben, for listening. I’d also like to give a shout to the Oxygym and last but not least my partner Mary for putting up with my obsession.