Sunday, April 28, 2013

Burgers & Suds: Our New UFC Hangout

I used to watch UFC events at Duffy's or Applebee's.  It worked out because I'd get a decent meal at a decent price, and, on top of that, would get to see a PPV for free.  However, Steve told us during training a few weeks back about a place called Burgers & Suds in Fort Lauderdale.  He said it was going to be completely dedicated to UFC and that the food was amazing.  So everyone from Team Elite went there to watch UFC 159, where the lamb burger changed EVERYTHING!

Sheep are going to be an endangered species soon, because that burger was phenomenal.  It was so fresh that Mary probably just noticed that her little lamb was missing.  That, along with the strawberry basil lemonade, would have made me a regular.  However, the staff and owner were also very friendly and gave us great service.  They basically let us take over their outdoor area and even allowed us to put up our Elite Krav Maga Academy banner.  I honestly felt more like I was at a barbecue at a friend's house than at a restaurant.  Only, none of my friends are creative enough to make lamb burgers.  Also, the raspberry smoothie I had was a real fruit smoothie.  I wasn't bouncing off the walls from a concoction that was half-refined sugar.  So if you love UFC and great food, this is the place for you.  My friends and I will definitely be there every UFC event, keeping the sheep population under control. 

UFC 159: Small Joint Injury And Eye Poke Madness!

UFC 159 was a crazy night of eye pokes, a dislocated thumb, and a sliced toe.  Not to mention the bizarre stoppage of Villante vs. St. Preux in the prelims.  I know that referees aren't perfect, but that call was ridiculous.  At any rate, the fights were still pretty good overall, and here is my perspective on them:

McMann vs. Gaff:  McMann continued her undefeated streak by taking Gaff down, getting a mounted crucifix, and pounding her face into the canvas.  We're one match closer to an Olympian vs. Olympian superfight!  Rousey has Zingano next, and I would love to see McMann tested against someone like Sarah Kaufman before the two medalists face each other. 

Khabilov vs. Medeiros: Sambo is back!  I predicted the winner of this match at Burgers & Suds, but the means of winning was disappointing.  The referee stopped the fight after Medeiros dislocated his thumb trying to stop one of three takedowns.  Now, I'm all for fighter preservation, but:

1) Cerrone was able to stand toe-to-toe with Nate Diaz with a broken jaw
2) Faber battled Mike Brown with two injured hands in WEC
3) Hendricks was able to beat Condit after breaking his left hand on "The Natural Born Killer's" jaw

In light of those circumstances, a guy should be allowed to finish a bout if all that he has is a broken thumb.  Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing more of Khabilov.  I don't think he'll become the next Fedor Emelianenko, but he is definitely a good prospect.

Miller vs. Healy: Don't mess with the Irish!  This awesome back-and-forth grappling battle ended with Healy making Miller "go night-night" with a rear naked choke in the third round.  I had it even between those two going into the final round and was certain that it was going to be a draw.  At any rate, with monsters like these guys to contend with, Benson Henderson will have a hard time beating Anderson Silva's records.

Davis vs. Magalhaes: So much for the spectacular grappling war I had envisioned.  Davis opted for a smarter option: picking Magalhaes apart with jabs and one-two combinations in a standup duel.  He even mocked Magalhaes in Round 3 by spanking him with his foot when his opponent pulled guard.  From a technical perspective, it was a great fight.  So of course, all the loudmouths who wanted to see a Street Fighter-esque KO booed the entire time. 

Nelson vs. Kongo: After one wild ridgehand and a right to the face on the ground, Kongo was out.  It was so quick that I missed it and had to watch the replay.  Nelson called out the winner of UFC 160 and I do hope that he gets a title shot one day.  However, I don't think that Dana White will let him leapfrog the winner of Hunt vs. Dos Santos.  Maybe if Nelson loses his next match and gets a drug suspension, he'll be allowed to cut in line.

Bisping vs. Belcher: Not to be too critical of Bisping, but he seriously needs a new strength training regimen.  There's no reason that Belcher should have made it into Round 3 with "The Count" hitting him from every known angle in mathematics.  Nonetheless, the five-time British national kickboxing champion had that match won long before the nastiest eye poke which I have ever seen.  Belcher got it right in his surgically-repaired eye.  Suffice it to say that it was bloody and gruesome.  Bisping was apologetic and tried to be classy at the end of the match.  As far as Belcher goes...I just hope he'll be alright!

Jones vs. Sonnen:  Jones finally redeemed himself for UFC 151, and Sonnen went out on his shield in spite of being completely overmatched.  As he stated during the post-fight interview with Joe Rogan, Jones wanted to "Chael Sonnen Chael Sonnen" and he succeeded.  He used Sonnen's own strategy against him, taking him down and smothering him while pummeling his face with strikes.  Sonnen tried his best to fight back with punches and knees in the clinch, but he was simply overpowered.  At the end of the first round, Jones kneed him in the body and finished him with elbows and punches against the cage. 

In a bizarre twist, Jones managed to break his toe at the end of the fight.  You could literally see the bone!  He toughed it out and gave the interview anyway, but he looked like he was going to go into shock and faint.  Sonnen gave respect where it was due, saying that Jones was the man and that the champ was the better fighter that night.  While Sonnen said he would think about what he would do next, he realized that this was probably going to be his last title shot.  At any rate, after stepping up like this, and his outstanding skills at promoting/commentary, I'm pretty sure that Dana White is going to keep him around.  In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Sonnen went home to find a six-figure contract for a marketing position at the UFC in his inbox.  Meanwhile, Jones has regained my respect, and I can now enjoy watching him dominate people in the light heavyweight division again. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

My UFC 159 Predictions

Finally, Jones' time for redemption has come!  This card is strong overall, but I'm really looking forward to see Chael Sonnen go out on his shield and Jon Jones finally doing what he should have done at UFC 151.  This event will bring closure to that whole fiasco and let everyone move on.  Here are my predictions for tonight's fight. 

Bonus prediction: McMann vs. Gaff

I generally don't predict prelim bouts, but I'll make an exception for McMann.  Ronda Rousey is the Muhammad Ali of Women's MMA.  She is extremely talented, good-looking, and entertaining.  At the same time, like her black boxing counterpart, she really overdoes it on the trash-talk.  For that reason, I can't wait until someone beats some respect into her and my gut tells me that that person is McMann.  McMann is humble and soft-spoken and also comes from an Olympic background.  I believe she will take out Gaff en route to being the Joe Frazier that finally knocks Rousey off her high horse.

Winner: McMann by KO in Round 2. 

Miller vs. Healy: I saw Miller and Lauzon burn down the house at UFC 155.  On a six-fight win streak, Healy is no pushover, but I see Miller hanging in there for another decision.

Winner: Miller via decision

Davis vs. Magalhaes: These guys are both such great grapplers that I don't see either man submitting the other.  On paper, Davis is more impressive with his sole professional loss being to Rashad Evans.  However, my gut tells me that Magalhaes is going to pull an upset.

Winner: Magalhaes by decision

Nelson vs. Kongo: This is a no-brainer.  Kongo is a decent heavyweight, but Nelson is on a whole new level.  I see a knockout by Round 2 at the latest.

Winner: Nelson by KO in Round 2.

Bisping vs. Belcher: Normally, I wouldn't pick against "The Count."  Even after his KO loss to Belfort, Bisping is one of the middleweight division's elite gatekeepers.  That being said, Belcher is a lot better than he has been given credit for.  In addition, his skills have improved, in spite of that decision loss to Yushin Okami.  One of these guys is going to bounce back in this fight and in my opinion, it's going to be Belcher.

Winner: Belcher by decision.

Jones vs. Sonnen:  I'm going to be rooting for "The American Gangster" all the way.  I personally feel that he will be the first man to put the light heavyweight king on his back.  Nonetheless, Jones has an insane amount of talent and an unbelievable work ethic.  One day, a man is going to rise up who will defeat Jones (for real - sorry Matt Hamill).  However, I don't believe that man will be Chael Sonnen.

Winner: Jones by submission in Round 3. 

Was The UFC 151 Debacle Completely Jones' Fault?

On the eve of UFC 159, I took some time to reflect on the most infamous event in UFC history: the cancellation of UFC 151.  For those of you who don't know what happened, Jon Jones was scheduled to defend his title against Dan Henderson at UFC 151.  Dan Henderson got injured and, after many light heavyweight contenders turned the fight down, Dana White called Chael Sonnen, who stepped up and agreed to take the fight.  In an ironic twist, Jon Jones backed out, claiming that eight days wasn't enough to prepare for a new opponent.  Long story short, the event was cancelled, we witnessed the craziest public meltdown by a corporate president in recent history, and the internet jumped on the "Chicken Bones Jones" hate train.  You know you've screwed up big when Sonnen, the biggest heel in MMA, comes out looking like the good guy. 

Now, I'll admit, I was on the hater wagon with everyone else.  Like Joe Rogan, I couldn't understand why the most phenomenal young MMA fighter around would be afraid to fight a 35-year-old 185-pounder.  However, now that I think about it, I don't think that fear was the motivation.  After all, Jones did say he was willing to face Sonnen at UFC 152.  Looking back, it seems like a decision motivated more by selfishness and immaturity than anything else.  I don't buy the whole "but it's a completely different guy argument" because so many factors were in Jones favor (his youth, his dominance in a higher weight class, a two month lead in training, the psychological boost from overcoming his rival and former big brother figure Rashad Evans vs. Sonnen's psychological thrashing from blowing his final chance to dethrone Anderson Silva) that they would have negated the inconvenience of changing his strategy. 

Nonetheless, although I still think that Jones made a poor decision, I do not believe that he is responsible for the event being cancelled.  I don't believe that Greg Jackson is responsible for the event being cancelled, nor do I believe he deserved all the hate that he received for simply voicing his opinion when asked.  I don't even believe that Dan Henderson is responsible for the event being cancelled, although I do believe that his decision to hide his injury was just as selfish and damaging as Jones' decision to turn down Sonnen.  I believe that the event being cancelled has more to do with Dana White letting his emotions get the better of him than anything else. 

In all honesty, if I was in his position, I would have probably flipped out, too.  In my personal opinion, a champion backing out of a fight when he is in shape and ready to go is completely inexcusable.  However, I would not have cancelled the event.  I would have offered to make the bout a non-title match and, if Jones had still refused, I would have stripped him of the belt.  That would have been better than throwing a temper tantrum and punishing the rest of the MMA community for one young man's lack of maturity. 

Nonetheless, both White and Jones have tried to make amends with this season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and tomorrow's event.  In doing so, they have taken steps to regain the respect of the MMA community.  Will people still remember UFC 151?  Yes.  However, they will also remember how White and Jones, like Chael, stepped up for "The Ultimate Fighter" and UFC 159. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

"Smooth" Keeps The Belt And Gets A "Yes" From The Girl!

Alright, so I correctly guessed three out of the five winners.  I aim more for 80%, but as long as I am above 50%, I'm happy.  Suffice it to say that this was a pretty awesome card overall, and most of the matches were PPV-worthy.  Here are my thoughts on each one:

Carmont vs. Larkin: Can't comment since it was on the prelims, but I got it right.  Woooo!

Brown vs. Mein:  After a back-and-forth first round, Brown broke Mein's will shortly after he broke his nose with a right hand.  Mein turtled up after getting hit with knees, a forearm, and a guillotine attempt and the referee called it while Brown was hitting him in the back.  I've seen fighters come back from similar physical damage.  However, the body cannot fight when the spirit has been broken.

Diaz vs. Thomson: I never thought I would see the day when a Diaz brother got knocked out.  Even two days later, I'm still flabbergasted.  In Round 2, Thomson smashed Diaz in the face with his shin and two right hands later, it was all over.  Nate's corner threw in the towel as the referee stopped the fight.  It was interesting to see Dana White hug Thomson after the fight.  It may be a not-so-subtle indicator of how much of a headache the most infamous heels in MMA have given the UFC President.

Mir vs. Cormier: Frank Mir is a legend, and will always be remembered as one of the best heavyweights in MMA history.  That's why it's so sad to see that his time has passed.  Aside from a wacky jump reverse crescent kick that made me wonder if Cormier has seen more Jackie Chan movies than I have, he dominated Mir in the clinch.  Was it particularly exciting?  No.  Was it smart?  Yes.  Cormier definitely has a few years to make an impact in the UFC, whereas Mir should probably take a couple of lower-level fights so that he can go out on a win and call it a day.

Henderson vs. Melendez:  Wow!  This fight was freaking sick!  Melendez definitely had octagon control, aggressively pushing the pace and chasing Henderson all over the ring.  Unfortunately, he ate a lot of strikes in the process, in particular some nasty leg kicks.  That's why I agree with the judges' decision: Henderson had so many more strikes that it gave him a slight edge in a bout that was fairly even otherwise.  I also don't think much of the crowd for booing during his wedding proposal.  Nonetheless, he and his fiancee didn't let it ruin their joy, and I am really happy for them both. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My UFC On Fox 7 Predictions

I personally feel that the two fights headlining this card should be on a PPV.  Nonetheless, I am more than happy to watch awesome matches for free.  Here are my predictions for tonight's card. 

Carmont vs. Larkin: I thought that Carmont lost his bout on UFC 154 and wasn't overly impressed by him.  While he may have just had a bad night, I have no reason to think that he will do much better against Larkin.

Winner: Larkin via decision.

Brown vs. Mein: I'm not familiar with either fighter, so I am going to go with my gut on this one.

Winner: Brown via KO in Round 2.

Diaz vs. Thomson:  Since he is a phenomenal grappler and striker, I have to get the edge to Diaz in this fight.  That being said, considering that Thomson was a former Strikeforce champion, I would be a fool to say that he didn't have a chance.

Winner: Diaz via decision. 

Mir vs. Cormier: Dana White is right: a win over Josh Barnett means something.  Also, as a former Olympian, I don't doubt that Cormier will give Mir some trouble.  At the same time, you only need to slip up once to get caught by Mir and I think that in the third round, Cormier will do that and suffer his first defeat. 

Winner: Mir via submission in Round 3.

Henderson vs. Melendez:  Both of these guys are tough as nails, and it could go either way.  Nonetheless, after seeing his wars with Frankie Edgar, I don't see "Smooth" losing to anyone except for "The Answer."

Winner: Henderson via unanimous decision. 

Sparring: The Litmus Test Of Your Martial Arts Skills

I got the chance to spar with Brian at the end of class earlier today.  Although I prefer to grapple when possible, sparring is where I truly shine.  I have excellent striking due to my karate background and am superb at gauging my distance and slipping past my opponent's defenses.  That being said, there is one area that I need to work on: the clinch.

Although I've pushed myself to get more comfortable with close-range fighting, it's an area where I have a lot of room to improve.  Brian has more experience at that range than I do and caught a glaring mistake that I was making.  While I was throwing body punches at his torso, I was ignoring the knees that were rocketing towards my solar plexus.  He wasn't connecting because of partner preservation.  However, if it were a real fight, I could have gotten my arms broken and that would have been the end of my dirty boxing.  So later on, I started acting more realistically, figuring out what my body would do if he really connected full force.  That wasn't necessary for the straight left that I took to my jaw, but hey, in sparring, accidents happen.  Any martial artist who is afraid to get hit should quit and do Zumba.   

When we were in stalemate after he tried to sprawl, I decided to lie back and pull him into my guard.  While we were here, Steve pointed out a mistake that we both made: going into pure grappling mode.  We both stopped hitting each other and tried to do pure BJJ.  This was especially bad for me, because I was ignoring a tool that I could use to escape from the bottom position.  Being in top position, Brian had gravity on his side, and I would have been in serious trouble if he decided to do some ground-and-pound.  So in the future, I am going to improve my ability to fight in the clinch and won't be so quick to give up position when we go to the ground.  In addition, I'll remember to continue throwing strikes in sparring if we wind up on the ground.  This is why I love sparring: it reveals areas where I can improve. 

Submissions 101: Tap Or Snap!

We were doing blunt weapon defenses earlier today when I got put into an armbar.  Remember that student who nearly ripped my head off the first day that I did "Stranger Danger"?  I decided to work with her.  She always works hard and is a very kind person, so I enjoy training with her.  However, I did not enjoy what happened to my elbow when I did not tap quickly enough.  She got the hold in and I was just chilling when all of the sudden-

My elbow: Pop!
Me: Aaaaaaaaaagggghhhh! (Taptaptap!)
Her: Are you okay?!
Me: (Laying on the ground, holding my elbow)
Her: Mr. Mike, you need to tap!  Otherwise, I'll keep going!
Me: (laughing at my own hubris)
Her: Sorry!

You know you have an effective technique when a slender 13-year-old girl can use it to submit a muscular 28-year-old man.  At any rate, when you are training in submission holds, always remember to tap out when you feel pain.  I was fortunate enough not to get seriously injured.  If she had kept going, she could easily have dislocated my elbow or broken my arm.  So during training, if your partner gets you into a submission hold, remember this important phrase: tap or snap!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Zingano Has "Cupcake" For Dessert At The Ultimate Fighter Finale!

I was absolutely positive that Tate would grind out a decision against Zingano to earn a rematch with Ronda Rousey.  Granted, I had a small moment of doubt when Zingano glared at Tate like an assassin while the former Strikeforce champ sang along to her own entrance song, but I quickly pushed it aside and stuck with my prediction.  In the first two rounds, it looked like I was going to be right as Tate constantly took Zingano down and nearly sunk in two submissions.  However, at the end of Round 2, Zingano started to reverse the moment and in the third round, she weakened Tate with some ground-and-pound before smashing her face in with her knee!  One elbow against the cage and it was all over.  Once the shock wore off, I went completely crazy!  The funny thing was that, after the match, Zingano admitted that she looked up to Tate and was scared to death of her.  This just goes to show that you should fight with all of your heart, no matter how gifted, ruthless, and experienced your opponent is. 

To be honest, that was the one fight that I was really looking forward to, and, as I expected, it completely outshined the other matches on the card.  Gastelum vs. Hall was good, but let's face it: Hall beat himself more than anything.  Gastelum fought his heart out and took the match seriously, whereas Hall had an identity crisis, thought he was Anderson Silva, and acted like a showboating clown.  Silva can get away with that nonsense due to years of experience, a crazy work ethic, an insane passion for the sport, and his ability to read his opponents to see if he can pull it off without getting killed.  Hall...not so much.  He clearly has better overall skill and technique than Gastelum, but the latter had the stronger mindset.  That's why Gastelum upset his opponent: he was willing to work for it!

Speaking of working for it, I hope that Faber has to work for a title shot this time.  He looked great against Jorgensen (who put up a better fight than I thought he would).  At the same time, Faber has been given four title shots and come up short in all of them.  Most guys are lucky if they earn two.  Would I love to see UFC gold around Faber's waist?  Absolutely.  Does he deserve a shot on a silver platter (again)?  No.  I personally feel that he should have to win at least one match for every title opportunity he's blown before he gets another crack at the belt, in order to be fair to the other fighters.  With a winning streak of four or more, he would have a better case for getting another chance. 

McDaniel vs. Smith was decent.  It didn't blow me away, but the triangle choke/armbar combo that McDaniel finished the fight with looked pretty neat.  I'm glad that Travis Browne beat Gonzaga.  At the same time, he needs to watch those elbows.  Technically, Gonzaga was out before Browne caught him on the back of his head.  Nonetheless, Browne left himself unnecessarily vulnerable to having the stoppage contested. 

The interview with Jones and Sonnen was hilarious.  Sonnen cut an amazing promo with classic lines such as "I'm the bigger name on the marquee!  I'm a bigger draw than Rocky!"  I definitely see him getting a job in UFC's marketing department once he hangs up the gloves.  Jones was a good foil for him, remaining stoic and wisely choosing not to get in a war with words with the "American Gangster."  When he was asked what he was going to do to beat Sonnen, Jones simply replied "The work has been done."  I'm definitely on Team Sonnen for UFC 159, due to the UFC 151 debacle.  However, I know that Jones is probably going to thrash Sonnen as brutally physically as Sonnen would thrash Jones verbally. 

At any rate, I am now totally stoked for Zingano vs. Rousey.  Do I think that Zingano can beat Rousey?  No way!  However, after seeing Zingano's performance last night, I do concede that I can be wrong again. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

More Martial, Less Art!

Earlier this week, I was training in blunt weapon defense with Steve and Allen and one of our students.  My favorite part in training with those guys is that they point out my weaknesses as well as my strengths.  This time, my weakness wasn't my technique so much as my mindset: I was putting form over function.

Long story short, I was going for submissions when it would have been more practical to simply punch the guy's lights out and run away. 

"Mike, your brain is like a martial arts library.  You are always cataloguing and sorting different moves, but you are putting form over function." Steve told me.

In other words, I was choosing the best-looking move over the most practical move.  This would not be a problem against, say, a hotheaded punk who needed to have their jets cooled.  However, if I was dealing with an experienced brawler, it could get me into all sorts of trouble.  Best case scenario, I was wasting time and energy that would be best spent ESCAPING.  Allen reinforced the point when I went for a rear naked choke from an awkward position.

"His face is right there.  You'd be better off just hitting him and running," he said, after explaining why it would be tough to get the choke from the position that I was in.

The fact is that, whenever I become really good at something, I can start showboating without even realizing it.  Even when it comes to my writing, I've had editors tell me to turn it down a notch.  This is partially due to my creative instincts running amok, although my desire to entertain people can also shoulder some of the blame as well.  For this reason, I've started gravitating towards more practical people in recent years in order to stay focused.  As I continue to develop my skills in the martial arts, I'm choosing the most pragmatic techniques over the prettiest ones.  That way, I can survive in the best shape possible, as opposed to barely getting by in an attempt to impress a non-existent audience.  In other words, more martial, less art!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Palm Trees Beware! How Masahiko Kimura Gave Me A Cool New Workout!

My personal favorite submission is the kimura, which is utilized in MMA all of the time.  In fact, Minotauro Noguiera's first submission loss was to a nasty kimura used by Frank Mir.  However, during Krav Maga class one day, Steve told me that the name actually comes from one of the best judokas ever: Masahiko Kimura.  Steve told me that Kimura was so dedicated to his martial art that he would practice hip tossing a tree to make himself stronger.  Afterwards, I noticed the palm tree which is conveniently located in my front yard and a light bulb went off on my head.  I've been trying to hip toss it and take it down ever since.

Even though I'm not a particularly strong guy, I always hold back when I do takedowns and throws on my students.  However, when you spend every evening trying to throw a palm tree, sooner or later, this will happen:

Me: The pressing throw will be easier if you put your hips into it, like this.

Young, athletic, teenage student (hurtles to the ground): Aaaaahhh!  Be gentle!

Me: Sorry!

Since I am a firm believer in student preservation, I now hold back even more.  That being said, it was a clear sign that what I was doing was beginning to work.  The last time that I grappled with Allan, I experienced another breakthrough.  I managed to get a hold of his leg while we were on the ground.  Normally, this is as far as I get before I wind up on my back.  This time, it was different.  An image of me practicing on the palm tree flashed threw my mind as I tightened my grip and pulled as hard as I could.  Allan's leg was mine!  And I had put him on his back!  Now, if only he hadn't gotten his arm around my neck...

Nonetheless, not even a guillotine choke could dampen my enthusiasm.  Kimura clearly knew what he was doing, and I will continue to practice on the tree in order to get stronger.  I've even incorporated trips and clinches in my workout to build up my power in those areas, too.  Will I become a world-renowned grappler like Kimura?  Probably not.  Nonetheless, I do eventually want to win some grappling tournaments, and this certainly won't hurt.