Welcome to the first week of BlackSportsOnline.com’s in depth coverage of Mixed Martial Arts. The purpose of the column is to give casual fans and hardcore fans alike a primer for the big MMA events of the weekend. Joining me will be MMA Insider Alex Donno, host of “Fighter’s Fury: Inside the Heart of a Champion” on 790 The Ticket in Miami, Florida. The show airs Sunday’s at 10 a.m. and is available online at 790TheTicket.com.
You can follow Alex on Twitter @AlexDonno790 for updates throughout the week.
Alex, this is a very busy weekend for fight fans. UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator and Dream all have major cards. In your opinion, what should fans be most excited about this weekend?
The biggest event of this busy MMA weekend will be Saturday night’s UFC 135: Jones vs. Rampage, live on pay per view. Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones, a 24 year old dynamo who manhandles opponents like rag dolls, makes his first title defense, against former champion and fan favorite, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson.
A battle between two of the most exciting fighters in the UFC shouldn’t need any extra storylines, but a notable conspiracy theory has added extra fuel to the fire. Rampage has gone out of his way to accuse Jones and manager Malki Kawa of placing a spy within Rampage’s training camp. Jones and Kawa have publicly denied any such gamesmanship. (Listen to Jones in an exclusive BSO Interview I conducted last week) Yet still, it’s something Rampage brings up through the media frequently, and Jones appears noticeably uncomfortable with the topic. If this is Rampage’s way of playing mind games, it appears to be working. According to Jones’ former training partner and current top contender for the title, Rashad Evans, “Jones is not equipped to deal with [the mind games] because he’s very insecure.” But even if Rampage’s mental warfare is indeed paying dividends, Evans doesn’t believe it will translate to victory inside the UFC’s Octagon. In the fight itself, Evans suspects Rampage “will get destroyed, within the first round or so.” Evans will anxiously await the winner, and expects to challenge for the title in either December 2011 or January ’12.
You can listen to my exclusive interview with Evans at 790TheTicket.com
Mental games are one thing, but when it comes to the physical fight, who has the advantage?
The key to the Jones vs. Rampage match up might very well lie within the reach disparity. Jones holds an astonishing eleven and a half inch reach advantage over the challenger. Rampage’s success in the UFC has come from his punching power, but he’ll need to find a way to navigate within Jones’ wing span in order to put his deadly fists to work. Rampage hits very, very hard, and Jones’ chin has never been truly tested. Thus far, Jones has successfully used his quickness and reach to avoid punishment against every striker he’s faced. It may only take one or two hard hooks or uppercuts from Rampage to stun the champion, but will he be able to connect at all? Jones generally dictates distance very well with low kicks and jabs. He’s among the most creative strikers in the UFC, mixing in a steady diet of spinning elbows and kicks. And if Rampage starts connecting with strikes in the standup, Jones may choose to fall back on his wrestling base and take the fight to the ground. Rampage defends takedowns well on paper, but Jon Jones’ takedowns have appeared virtually unstoppable during his three year UFC career.
Even two-time NCAA All American wrestler Ryan Bader could not defend Jones’ shoot. Once on the ground, Jones’ most dangerous weapons in a fight are arguably his elbow strikes from top control. All in all, it appears as though Rampage will need to execute a flawless game plan to find victory. But we all know one punch can change a fight, especially a Rampage Jackson fight.
Jones vs. Rampage is great match up that is getting all the attention and it is also a historic fight because it is the first time two African Americans have battled for a UFC title, but it is not the only fight at the top of the card, tell us about the co-main event.
In UFC 135’s co-main event, MMA legend Matt Hughes takes on former title contender Josh Koscheck in a welterweight tilt. Hughes was once by far the best in his weight class, but it appears in recent years that father time has caught up to him. In Koscheck, Hughes will face a powerful wrestler with ever improving striking. Hughes, to his credit, has historically used his wrestling as effectively as anyone else in UFC history, making this a very intriguing match up. The difference may be Koscheck’s punching power and superior core strength. Koscheck returns after a 9-month layoff due to a broken eye socket. Had he not been offered this fight with Hughes on short notice (to replace an injured Diego Sanchez) he would have preferred to make his Octagon return in a heavier weight class. But the chance to fight Matt Hughes was an offer Koscheck could not refuse. It’s a fight he’s wanted for years, and he claims Hughes has been ducking him along the way.
What about the undercard? Any fight stands out in your mind?
The rest of the pay per view main card consists of Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton at heavyweight, Nate Diaz vs. Pride FC legend Takanori Gomi at lightweight, and Ben Rothwell vs Mark Hunt at heavyweight. I recommend paying close attention to the Diaz vs Gomi fight, as the loser may very well receive his release from the UFC. Both are fan favorites, but Diaz comes into the fight looking to avoid a third straight loss, while Gomi has lost two of his three UFC fights. Diaz’ past two losses were contested in the welterweight division, but this fight against Gomi will be at lightweight, where most of his UFC bouts have taken place.
Take note- before the pay per view fights go live at 9:00pm EST, Spike TV will air an hour of preliminary card bouts, beginning at 8pm, featuring Tony Ferguson vs Aaron Riley, and Nick Ring vs Tim Boetch. The three prior preliminaries will be streamed live on Facebook, meaning each and every fight will be broadcast in some way, shape, or form.
The fight weekend kicks off tonight at 11 p.m. on Showtime with Strikeforce Challengers: Larkin vs. Rossborough, what can we expect from this struggling promotion?
We may be within the final 5 months of the very existence of Strikeforce, but they still have a nice collection of young talent. Some of that talent will be on display at Strikeforce Challengers: Larkin vs Rossborough. The Challengers Series is a subdivision of Strikeforce that puts young, up and coming fighters on display. Notable names like Daniel Cormier, Tyron Woodley, and Tarec Saffiedine came up through the Challengers Series before earning spots on “the big show.” On Friday’s card, undefeated striker Lorenz Larkin will meet late replacement and virtual unknown opponent Nick Rossborough in the main event.
When it comes to crowd pleasing performances, Larkin has the “it” factor. He throws a powerful and diverse array of kicks and punches from awkward angles, and fights at an exciting pace. Larkin put his name on the MMA map back in April, when he overwhelmed former K-1 striker Scott Lighty in a second round TKO victory. We are yet to see any evidence of Larkin’s ground game, but at 11-0 with 8 knockouts, he’s an exciting prospect to keep an eye on.
What about the rest of the card?
On the under card, pay close attention to Jason High, who meets Todd Moore at welterweight, and Ryan Couture, who takes on Maka Watson at lightweight. High is on a five fight win streak with big victories both stateside and in Japan. He’s likely a victory or two away from earning fights on bigger shows. As for Ryan Couture, if his surname sounds familiar, it’s because he is indeed the son of MMA legend Randy “The Natural” Couture. Ryan comes off a poor showing in a decision loss to Matt Ricehouse in June. It was his first career loss in three fights, so it will be interesting to see how he bounces back. Unlike his father, who employed a power clinch game to wear out opponents, Ryan is a finesse fighter with slick jiu jitsu.
While Strikeforce is fledgling, it seems like Bellator is gaining in popularity. This Saturday we have Bellator 51 on MTV 2 and EPIX HD. What should fans look out for?
The Bellator Fighting Championships offer the most concrete proof that great fights don’t have to come from Zuffa LLC owned promotions. Saturday’s Bellator 51 features the opening, quarterfinal round of the Season 5 Bantamweight Tournament. Any educated MMA fan will tell you that bantamweight and featherweights are the most exciting weight divisions in the sport. The little guys fight at a feverish pace and rarely ever tire.
The main event will be a bantamweight tournament bout between current featherweight champion Joe Warren and Bellator newcomer Alexis Vila. These are two of the most decorated amateur wrestlers that the sport of pro MMA has to offer. As a Greco-Roman wrestler, Joe Warren won a World Championship and a Pan American Championship, representing the U.S.A. Vila, while representing Cuba, was a 2-time world champion and 1996 Olympic Bronze medalist. He now lives in Miami, FL, and trains at American Top Team. Both Warren and Vila are undefeated, with Warren chasing Bellator gold in his second weight division. As the current featherweight champion, Warren has two top contenders currently lined up to face him, Patricio Pitbull and Pat Curran. He expects to defend his title twice within the next four months or so, while simultaneously competing in a tournament. If Warren defeats Vila and continues to the next round, it will be interesting to see how he can possibly manage so many fights in so little time.
Other bantamweight tournament quarterfinal match ups include Wilson Reis vs. Eduardo Dantas, Chase Beebe vs. Marcos Galvao, and Ed West vs. Luis Nogueira. Beebe is a former WEC bantamweight champion, so his name should carry some weight among mainstream fans. Chronic Bellator viewers will remember Marcos Galvao as someone who controlled Joe Warren for the better part of three rounds back in April before losing by controversial decision. Wilson Reis, meanwhile, competed in a previous Bellator featherweight tournament, but will now try his luck at bantamweight.
Hardcore fans can follow up the Strikeforce card on Friday night with Dream 17 Live on HDNET. What can night owls expect to see out of Japan?
If you suffer from insomnia, a great way to spend a few hours starting at 3am on Saturday morning will be watching Dream 17. The event takes place live from the world famous Saitama Super Arena in Japan, and will be Dream’s first “full show” since the Earthquake and Tsunami last Spring. UFC fans will be eager to watch the Dream debut of Gerald “Hurricane” Harris.
What makes this card especially notable is the presence of two Top-10 lightweights: Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri. Aoki will face former WEC lightweight champion “Razor” Rob McCullough in the main event, with Kawajiri meeting heavy-handed Norwegian Joachim “Hellboy” Hansen in the co-main event.
For those who appreciate brilliant submissions, there are few fighters more fun to watch than Shinya Aoki. He has an undeniable ability to improvise on the ground and pull off high level submission finishes from any and every angle. His ground game is aggressive, but the fight must go to the ground in order for Aoki to be successful. His striking is rudimentary at best, so the burden will be on McCullough to keep the action vertical. It’s unfortunate that many American fans know Aoki only for his uneventful and unexciting decision loss to Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce. If you haven’t given Aoki a second chance yet, I recommend you do so.
In the co-main event, Tatsuya Kawajiri will look for a 3rd consecutive victory on Japanese soil. Kawajiri’s skill set is uncommon for Japanese fighters, in that he uses more of an American power wrestling style. He will look to take Joachim Hansen to the ground, rather than face Hansen’s dynamite fists in the standup. The knockout power of Hansen is world renowned and in this fight he has a chance to avenge a loss to Kawajiri from 2006.
And in a middleweight bout, recent UFC castoff Gerald “Hurricane” Harris makes his Dream debut against Kazuhiro Nakamura. This will be Harris’ third fight since his UFC release, after splitting his previous 2 bouts.
Although the live 3am EST broadcast on HDNet is not ideal for anyone in the continental United States, Dream 17 will be replayed the following weekend.
Thank you very much. All in all it looks like a great weekend of fighting with different styles on display.
We hope you enjoyed this in depth look at the fight game. Hopefully this is the first of many columns to come. Also check back with the site for interviews with some of the big names in MMA.