Archive for February, 2011

UFC 127 Results and Recap

Posted in TV Reports, UFC on February 27, 2011 by jaytan716

“Expect impressive performances from Lytle, Sotiropoulos, and Penn.”

None of these men won, and though at least one match was close and compelling, UFC 127 was a show where the deck was reshuffled yet again, leaving Joe Silva, Dana White, and the Fertitta Brothers with some interesting promotional choices to make.

My own rule of thumb is that when you have a lower-profile lineup, such as no title matches, proven pay-per-view stars (BJ Penn aside), or long-brewing beefs (the Rivera-Bisping thing didn’t have any history prior to their match), shows such as UFC 127 reveal future contenders and personalities to build around for bigger shows later down the road. As such, what was already a mixed bag was shaken up even more with interesting results.

U.S.-transplant Brian Ebersole shocked fans with his unconventional yet effective fighting style. Ultimate Fighter season nine winner Ross Pearson decisively handled UFC veteran Spencer Fisher. Dennis Siver thwarted plans for George Sotiropoulos, who was earmarked as a potentially strong lightweight title contender and Zuffa’s Great Australian Hope. And though he didn’t win, Jon Fitch renewed his title contender’s card with his performance against what seemed to be “the serious BJ Penn.”

The two big controversies emerging from UFC 127 are in part the outcomes of the last two matches, but also where the respective stars of those matches go from there. BJ Penn was clearly disappointed in his performance, and though he didn’t make any retirement announcements, he did allude to questioning what the next chapter to his fight career will look like.

Before most BJ Penn matches, the proverbial question is always “which BJ will show up to fight?” Conventionally, it’s either the amazing grappler with hard, fast hands that earned his ‘Prodigy’ nickname, or the unmotivated daydreamer who looks like he’d rather be anywhere than an octagon cage. In this case, it felt like we saw the Prodigy, but that he simply couldn’t seal the deal like he could against guys like Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez. Time eventually catches up with all fighters at some point, and when it catches them off guard (as it seemed with Fedor two weeks ago), their kneejerk reaction is to court retirement.

Shortly after the press conference, Penn told MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani “everything runs through your head at certain times and your mind changes from time to time. I still don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

In the week leading up to the fight, fans and media really picked up on the heat between Michael Bisping and Jorge Rivera, the latter of whose series of YouTube videos clearly got under the Englishman’s skin. Such that Bisping’s worst side came out with his behavior during the match (grabbing the cage, blatant illegal knee) and afterwards (spitting at Rivera’s corner).

Post-fight trash talking and obscene gestures, which Bisping also partook in tonight, don’t do any truly measurable harm. Neither Josh Koscheck nor Brock Lesnar were fined or suspended for their post-fight behavior. And the referee deducted a point off  Bisping for the illegal knee to Rivera, so it’s not like there wasn’t punishment (given Bisping’s distance from Rivera, line of sight, and knowledge of the rules, disqualification would have been fully justified). But as a veteran of 14 UFC fights, regardless of the videos or his penchant for emotion, Bisping was far out of line. He did apologize in his post-fight interview and again at the press conference later that night. Not that I expect it to happen, but it wouldn’t be improper for UFC brass to invoke further disciplinary action against the Count, because otherwise the bar for acceptable behavior will drop to “as long as you apologize for it afterwards.”

Upon hearing that Rivera’s camp believed the knee to be intentional, and that they believed Bisping should be suspended, he said in reaction “Doesn’t surprise me, really. Just one classless move after another, I suppose.” Indeed, Michael. Indeed.

http://www.ufc.com/media/ufc-127-post-fight-pc-archive

As for the matches, few of them played out as I expected, which shows what a wonderful crapshoot this sport can be. Despite my prediction, I thought Fukuda’s takedowns were enough that he definitely won the third and likely the second, if not the first as well. He didn’t accomplish much with the takedowns from the first and second, and the stand-up fight was close. According to the Wrestling Observer / Figure Four Online website, all three judges scored the bout 29-28, giving Ring the first and second, which would indicate they saw Ring’s striking overshadowed Fukuda’s takedowns, which isn’t an illogical argument. If Fukuda had advanced position off the takedowns in the first and second rounds, he likely would have taken at least one round and tipped the scales for his own 29-28 win.

After years of North American MMA exile, Brian Ebersole clearly embraced and made the most out of his last-minute opportunity to fight in the UFC, landing a fantastic knee in the second that seemed to take Chris Lytle out of the rest of the match. And speaking of knees, though Bisping was close to winning the striking game in his match, that knee to Rivera’s head certainly helped set the stage for round two.

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for UFC 127:

145 lbs. – Jason Reinhardt vs. Tiequan Zhang
Prediction:
Zhang via submission (round one)
Result: Zhang via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Anthony Perosh vs. Tom Blackledge
Prediction:
Perosh via TKO / KO (round one)
Result: Perosh via submission (round one)

155 lbs. – Curt Warburton vs. Maciej Jewtuszko
Prediction:
Jewtuszko via TKO (round two)
Result: Warburton via unanimous decision

265 lbs. – Mark Hunt vs. Chris Tuchscherer
Prediction:
Tuchscherer by submission (round one)
Result: Hunt via TKO (round two)

185 lbs. – Nick Ring vs. Riki Fukuda
Prediction:
Ring via submission (round two or three) or decision.
Result: Ring via unanimous decision

205 lbs. – Alexander Gustafsson x James Te-Huna
Prediction:
Gustafsson via submission (round two) or decision.
Result: Gustafsson via submission (round one)

155 lbs. – Spencer Fisher vs. Ross Pearson
Prediction: Fisher by decision
Result: Pearson via unanimous decision

185 lbs. – Chris Camozzi vs. Kyle Noke
Prediction: Noke via submission (round three)
Result: Noke via submission (round one)

170 lbs. – Brian Ebersole vs. Chris Lytle
Prediction:
Lytle by submission (round one)
Result: Ebersole via unanimous decision

155 lbs. – George Sotiropoulos vs. Dennis Siver
Prediction:
Sotiropoulos by submission (round two)
Result: Siver via unanimous decision

185 lbs. – Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera
Prediction:
Rivera by (round three) TKO or Bisping by decision
Result: Bisping via TKO (round two)

170 lbs. – BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch
Prediction:
Penn by submission (round two) or unanimous decision
Result: Majority Draw (two judges draw, one judge 29-28 Fitch

The Finish

As a matchmaker myself, I should empathize when a promoter’s marketing darlings lose and their long-term plans go awry. In this case, an otherwise lackluster card was made interesting by some intriguing yet indecisive finishes. I don’t feel this show revealed much for the future, beyond a potentially entertaining mid-card welterweight in Brian Ebersole, Michael Bisping as a certified heel, and Fitch as the top non-finishing contender. But thankfully, we’ve only got several days before Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann can wash away the stop-gap feel of UFC 127.

Advertisements

UFC 127 Predictions

Posted in Predictions, UFC on February 22, 2011 by jaytan716

With talk of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix and Fedor Emelianenko’s second loss cooling down for a moment, focus shifts back again to the House of Zuffa, as UFC 127 takes place on Saturday, February 27th, from Acer Arena in Sydney, Australia.

This event doesn’t feature any title fights, but with BJ Penn (returning to the welterweight division) vs. Jon Fitch in a #1 contender’s match, in addition to key bouts for lightweight George Sotiropoulos and middleweight Michael Bisping, UFC 127 is more about establishing potential title challengers for events later down the road. None of these men have bombastic personalities, so a solid finish (as opposed to a decision) from Fitch, Sotiropoulos, and Bisping would do wonders for breaking them into that upper echelon of fighters who register on the casual fan’s radar.

In Fitch’s 2008 challenge for Georges St-Pierre’s UFC welterweight title, he was portrayed as an up-from-bootstraps fighter whose Spartan training and lifestyle was enough to push GSP to the limit. Legend was that Fitch, in order to save money for training, would forego buying napkins and wipe his hands on his dog (which I always found ironic, since it theoretically would be more expensive to own a dog than napkins). To be sure, Fitch is relentless in the cage, but few see him at the same level as Penn, a multi-time former world champion who, when motivated, can blow through competition.

Jon Fitch Interview:

BJ Penn Interview:

As an Aussie fighting in his homeland, George Sotiropoulos is positioned to get over big with TV audiences. His win streak dates back to late-2006, and though his matches over Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino went to decision, both were back-and-forth ground scraps in which Sotiropoulos surprised critics and fans with his grappling control. A strong performance in front of his countrymen could give Zuffa prime highlight reel footage to help build Sotiropoulos for a lightweight title shot later this year.

The only semblance of a grudge match on this show is Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera. Bisping is a heel in many fans eyes due to his fan-unfriendly jab-and-evade fighting style as well as his unapologetic confidence (which, to be fair every fighter should have). And that British accent doesn’t help his attempts at humility.

Rivera, himself a veteran journeyman fighter (until securing a UFC contract in the wake of season four of TUF), teamed up with his sponsor Ranger Up and produced a series of silly videos to help build up the fight, of course at Bisping’s expense. Indeed, though the bout itself is a dark horse for anticipation, the videos are entertaining enough to make people sit up and pay attention to how Bisping will respond in the cage to them.

Jorge Rivera and Ranger Up having some fun hyping the match:

A Tale of Count Bisping:

Michael Bisping’s Power Punch Record:

The first two prelim fights (Reinhardt vs. Zhang and Perosh vs. Blackledge) will be broadcast on UFC’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/UFC)

Here’s a breakdown of this weekend’s card:

145 lbs. – Jason Reinhardt vs. Tiequan Zhang: Zhang is Zuffa’s Great Chinese Hope for company expansion into that part of the world. He was undefeated until facing Danny Downes at WEC 53, who took him to decision. A lack of cardio on Zhang’s part played a big factor in that match. Reinhardt is a 10-year, 21-match veteran, with his single loss, a submission to Joe Lauzon, as his only time on the big stage. This will be Reinhardt’s first match back in over three years. Assuming Zhang has fixed his conditioning issues, ring rust will likely play a significant factor here.

Prediction: Zhang via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Anthony Perosh vs. Tom Blackledge: After a career as a heavyweight, Wolfslair’s Tom Blackledge makes his delayed debut in the UFC and at light heavyweight. This will likewise be Perosh’s first fight at 205, though he fought in the Octagon twice in 2006, going 0-2 for his efforts. Blackledge hasn’t fought since mid-2009, whereas Perosh fought four times in 2009 and once in 2010 as a last minute replacement against Mirko Cro Cop, of all people, before undergoing knee surgery. Since his previous UFC stint, Perrosh is 4-3, mostly KO / TKO finishes. Blackledge has never gone the distance, and in fact hasn’t been out of the first round since 2003. Given that, expect this to be a swift and sloppy slobberknocker.

Prediction: Perrosh via TKO / KO (round one)

155 lbs. – Curt Warburton vs. Maciej Jewtuszko: Jewtuszko will make his UFC debut with this match, but is undefeated with a first round TKO win over Anthony Njokuani, who many thought was the Second Coming, at WEC 50. He’s highly-ranked in his home country of Poland, with Dutch Muay Thai experience and a purple belt in jiu-jitsu. Warburton hails from London’s Wolfslair team, home to fellow UFC fighters Ross Pearson and Tom Blackledge (who, not ironically, are also on this card).

Prediction: Jewtuszko via TKO (round two)

265 lbs. – Mark Hunt vs. Chris Tuchscherer: Hunt is a former kickboxing star best known in MMA for beating Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop in back-to-back decision wins. He won the K-1 Grand Prix in 2001, and was once known for having a granite chin. However, he’s lost his last six matches, all by first round submission, except one KO loss to Melvin Manhoef at K-1’s Dynamite 2008 show. Tuchscherer has been around the sport since the mid-2000’s and boasts an impressive 21-3 record, but two of those losses are recent TKOs that came at the hands of Gabriel Gonzaga and Brendan Schaub. ‘Crowbar,’ as he’s known to friends and fans, is also one of Brock Lesnar’s training partners, which gives him the advantage in training for takedowns and ground work, a key to defeating Hunt.

Prediction: Tuchscherer by submission (round one)

185 lbs. – Nick Ring vs. Riki Fukuda: Ring is an undefeated kickboxer-turned-MMA-fighter from Canada. He was the blue chip prospect in season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, but was forced to withdraw early due to a nagging knee injury. For this fight, he’s reportedly training with Firas Zahabi’s Tristar Gym in Montreal with Georges St-Pierre. Fukuda is a journeyman wrestler and fighter who will be making his UFC debut, but he has wins in EliteXC, DREAM, and a longstanding tenure in the Japanese DEEP promotion, where he is the reigning middleweight champion. This will be Ring’s toughest challenge to date. Given the talent in his training camp, as long as his knee doesn’t cause problems, I expect Ring to rise to the occasion.

Prediction: Ring via submission (round two or three) or decision

205 lbs. – Alexander Gustafsson x James Te-Huna: Gustafsson is a striker with an underrated ground game that he developed with Phil Davis and Alliance MMA in San Diego. Te-Huna, the first New Zealander to enter the modern-era UFC, finished his last five opponents with strikes, including a first-round KO of Anthony Perosh. Gustafsson will have the reach to stand and bang with Te-Huna, or, like with Cyrille Diabate, he could take the Maori out of his element by grounding the fight and going for the submission. Look for Te-Huna to focus on avoiding that latter part.

Prediction: Gustafsson via submission (round two) or decision

155 lbs. – Spencer Fisher vs. Ross Pearson: Pearson is the lightweight winner of The Ultimate Fighter: United States vs. United Kingdom (season nine). Since winning the tournament and show, Pearson is 2-1, with a TKO over Aaron Riley, a decision over Dennis Siver, and a submission loss to respected brown belt Cole Miller. Fisher is eight years older and a UFC veteran, going back to a submission win over Thiago Alves in 2005. He’s 10-5 in the UFC, with a decision loss to Siver and decision win over Curt Warburton (who, as Pearson’s teammate, is surely offering firsthand insight). Both have some hard-fought grind-out victories, as I expect this one to end up.

Prediction: Fisher by decision

185 lbs. – Chris Camozzi vs. Kyle Noke: This match will revisit season 11 (Koscheck vs. GSP) of The Ultimate Fighter, as Camozzi and Noke were on opposing teams then. Camozzi had to withdraw from the house due to a broken jaw, but since then, he’s earned decision wins over James Hammortree and Dongyi Yang. Though Noke is six years older and four years the senior to Camozzi in MMA years, their fight records are quite comparable (Noke’s 18-4-1 to Camozzi’s 14-3). Of their UFC tenures, Noke has faced more experienced competition, and has two wins by finish to show for it. With the fight based in Australia, Noke will have the hometown advantage. It’s not the biggest factor in an MMA fight, but for as much as fighters love to perform in their hometowns, for a non-US fighter, it can be that much more a motivator.

Prediction: Noke via submission (round three)

170 lbs. – Brian Ebersole vs. Chris Lytle: Lytle was originally scheduled to face Carlos Condit, until the Natural Born Killer was forced to withdraw due to injury. Like Lytle, Ebersole is a veteran journeyman of the sport, having fought for promotions of all sizes throughout the world and boasting 46 wins out of 61 matches. However, this will be Ebersole’s first time in a UFC cage, where Lytle has hung with the toughest since 2006. That said, Ebersole will be the default ‘hometown hero,’ as he made Australia home after his Shannon Ritch match in 2006 which the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC) believed to be a work (fake match). Despite a win last year against Carlos Newton, Ebersole hasn’t seen the level of competition that Lytle has in the past few years, and that, moreso than any ‘UFC jitters’ could be the bigger factor in this match.

Prediction: Lytle by submission (round one)

155 lbs. – George Sotiropoulos vs. Dennis Siver: Sotiropoulos is on an eight-fight win streak since 2007, or an 11-fight streak since 2005 if you don’t include a DQ for groin strikes on Shinya Aoki between those years. He’s a 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu brown belt who outwrestled Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino (both former wrestlers with traditional jiu-jitsu black belts), then submitted Joe Lauzon. Siver is a German kickboxing champion who made his name known in the European MMA community before being invited to the UFC in 2007. He went 1-3 in his first run, and has gone 6-1 since his return in 2009. But Sotiropoulos has dispatched tougher competition during those years, and stands to win this contest.

Prediction: Sotiropoulos by submission (round two)

Jorge Rivera Interview:

Recent Michael Bisping video:

185 lbs. – Michael Bisping vs. Jorge Rivera: This match pits two guys who like to trade leather, which leads me to suspect that we might see a surprising ground strategy out of one of them, particularly Bisping. His circular stick-and-move style helped him outfox Chris Leben, Dan Miller, and Yoshihiro Akiyama, but at UFC 100, Dan Henderson proved that he can be caught. Moreover, at this point, his movement is so documented that reinvention or some new tricks are a must. To that end, Rivera, who is coming off TKO wins over Nate Quarry and Rob Kimmons, will have to have a game plan for catching the elusive Count. Should they stand and bang, however, both men will be thinking about Rivera’s right hand. Rights from Henderson and Wanderlei Silva, respectively, gave Bisping problems, and Rivera’s

Prediction: Rivera by (round three) TKO or Bisping by decision

170 lbs. – BJ Penn vs. Jon Fitch: Previously, I would have said that it’s almost impossible to tell which BJ Penn is going to show up (the guy that terrorized Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez or the guy that lost to Frankie Edgar). But in retrospect, Penn thrives on a challenge, one reason why fans love him, and though 170 isn’t unfamiliar territory for him, the bump up in weight is the hook behind this match, and I’d be hard-pressed to envision that he won’t come focused. That said, a win here would revitalize Fitch’s career past his previous highwater mark. BJ’s shown weakness against wrestlers who can keep him down (Edgar, St-Pierre), but he’s also reportedly brought Matt Hughes in to improve his takedown defense. This being public knowledge, does Fitch have a counter-counter strategy? Presuming the Prodigy shows up, I’d expect him to break Fitch’s decision streak. If he doesn’t, we’re in for a long, grinding night.

Prediction: Penn by submission (round two) or unanimous decision

The Finish

Aside from seeing whether Penn can return to his dominant ways, there isn’t much for casual American audiences. Most of these fighters hail from Europe or Down Under, but given that hungry, aspiring fighters often ‘bring it’ when given the opportunity, we could see some pretty entertaining performances. This is the time for Tiequan Zhang, Nick Ring, Kyle Noke, and Chris Tuchscherer to impress UFC brass. Expect fireworks from Perosh x Blackledge and impressive performances from Lytle, Sotiropoulos, and Penn, and a flash finish in Bisping vs. Rivera.

Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva Recap & Results

Posted in Strikeforce, TV Reports on February 13, 2011 by jaytan716

Jay Tan’s

In his book Adventures in the Screen Trade, William Goldman said “nobody knows anything,” and while he was talking about Hollywood, after the big upset in tonight’s main event, the same rule of thumb can be applied to MMA.

Especially on a night when all the televised matches except the main event ended in the first round, when the longest match would involve the ‘Last Emperor’ Fedor Emelianenko, and when that match would prove to be Emelianenko’s second loss in a row.

“Strikeforce / M-1 Global Present: Fedor vs. Silva” marked the beginning of the Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament. This year-long classic of top heavyweights outside of the UFC is formatted similarly to the famous grand prix tournaments of Japan’s PRIDE Fighting Championships in the early 2000’s, and because of that, is being lauded by the MMA community.

Complemented with an all-heavyweight televised undercard, the first two matches in the opening quarterfinal rounds main evented the show:  Sergei Kharitonov finished (perhaps permanently in the sport) Andrei ‘The Pitbull’ Arlovski via first-round KO and Emelianenko, in his first match since being submitted by Fabricio Werdum mid-last year, succumbed to former EliteXC heavyweight champion Antonio ‘Bigfoot’ Silva via TKO due to a doctor’s stoppage.

Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament Results (after night one)

Hindsight is 20/20, but in retrospect, perhaps we should have predicted the quick finishes, as well as the challenge that Bigfoot Silva would present. After all, of the televised match winners tonight, only Silva and Chad Griggs had gone to the second round since 2008. Griggs’ only match to go past five minutes was his TKO win last year against Bobby Lashley, but beyond that he, Kharitonov, Del Rosario, and Overeem share over 30 consecutive first-round finishes (wins and losses) between them.

And though Emelianenko lost tonight, his only other second-round match was his TKO win against Brett Rogers in 2009. As such, clearly the odds of any of these men having a long night were slim to none.

Likewise, on New Year’s Eve in 2007, Emelianenko fought ‘Techno Goliath’ Hong Man Choi, a 7’2”, 350 lb. Korean boxer and ssireum (Korean folkstyle) wrestler who, like Silva, lives with acromegaly. Emelianenko made short work of Choi that night, baiting a ground fight and working from bottom position for an armbar. Of course, Choi was nowhere near the skill level of Silva, who is a black belt in judo, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and karate. Moreover, Emelianenko fought a much different fight against Silva, choosing to stand and bang, When Emelianenko was stuck on bottom, he had no answers for Silva’s challenges, proving that at a certain point, skill AND size will beat skill alone.

And we probably should have known that all along. After all, to paraphrase, any given man can beat any other man on any given day. Especially in MMA.

The other big surprise of the night was the announcement of former Strikeforce women’s middleweight champion Gina Carano returning to action in 2011. Carano’s camp, Xtreme Couture, announced (via Twitter) over a week ago that the top female MMA star of 2007 and 2009 had returned to the gym for some light training. Although the reluctant superstar had little more to offer tonight than a pretty smile and a few gushes of embarrassment, that should be enough anticipation for the internet and MMA fans to buzz about until she gets back into fight shape and a match can be signed.

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for “Strikeforce / M-1 Global Present: Fedor vs. Silva”:

155 lbs. – John Cholish x Marc Stevens
Prediction:
Cholish via submission (round three)
Result: Cholish via submission (round two)

170 lbs. – John Salgado x Igor Gracie
Prediction:
Gracie via submission (round one)
Result: Gracie via submission (round two)

265 lbs. – Chad Griggs x Gian Villante:
Prediction: Villante via TKO (round one)
Result: Griggs via TKO (round one)

265 lbs. – Valantijn Overeem vs. Ray Sefo:
Prediction: Overeem via TKO (round one)
Result: Overeem via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Shane Del Rosario x Lavar Johnson:
Prediction: Del Rosario via TKO or submission (round two)
Result: Del Rosario via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Andrei Arlovski x Sergei Kharitonov
Prediction: Kharitonov via unanimous decision
Result: Kharitonov via KO (round one)

265 lbs. – Fedor Emelianenko x Antonio Silva:
Result: Silva via TKO / doctor’s stoppage (round two)

The Finish

I would think that one of Strikeforce’s bigger goals tonight was to provide at least one exciting, irresistible answer to the casual MMA fan’s question “why should I watch or care about this tournament?”

Within the cage, Coker & Co. gave several answers: hard-hitting heavyweight action with blink-of-an-eye finishes in a setting where, clearly, anything can happen. Josh Barnett made me believe he was serious about getting into a dogfight, and Alistair Overeem actually gave me a reason to care a bit more about his fight (against whom I’m still afraid casual fans are going to refer to as ‘the other guy’). This was Strikeforce’s first venture into the New Jersey market, and to their credit, the audience came across on TV as one of their hotter non-San Jose crowds in a long time.

On the other hand, promoting can be a delicate balance, and for all the good they gave us tonight, Strikeforce’s next big event, set for March 5th in Columbus, OH, came up on the short end. This is especially sad when tonight’s show was booked for 150 to 180 minutes and only ran 127 minutes (including end credits). There was still plenty of time to cut after the Emelianenko fight to one of the earlier untelevised matches, or even promo pieces on Henderson, Feijao, Marloes Coenen, or Miesha Tate (who are all scheduled for March 5th). To Zuffa’s credit, the UFC is not afraid to air lesser-known undercard matches to complete a three-hour PPV window, and I’ve even see them air an undercard Spike TV match as filler.

If I didn’t already have Dan Henderson x Rafael ‘Feijao’ on my calendar, I’m not sure that I would care to be aware of it at all. And as frustrating as I found Carano’s airheaded interview (peace to Heidi Androl’s best intentions), her return to the cage and the April tournament matches are going to be on my radar a lot more than Showtime’s next big MMA event (which, by the way, is scheduled for two title fights, for those keeping score).

With no official Showtime videos for March 5th yet, at least Karen Bryant has something to offer:

STRIKEFORCE: FEDOR VS. SILVA Predictions

Posted in Uncategorized on February 8, 2011 by jaytan716

Modeled after the beloved tournaments in PRIDE Fighting Championships, Strikeforce and Showtime are bringing their World Heavyweight Grand Prix to American soil in 2011, and the first round is only days away.

In a nutshell, Strikeforce’s top eight heavyweights will face off in an elimination-style tournament scheduled to run throughout the year, with the first two quarterfinal matches taking place on February 12th and the second two quarterfinals occurring in April. The four winners from that round advance to the semi-finals and fight on a later Strikeforce show. And finally the finals, presumably in the fall.

The Strikeforce World Grand Prix Heavyweight Tournament Brackets

Of course, former PRIDE FC heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko is the odds-on-favorite to win, but more importantly, the tournament has an imaginative mix of established international stars alongside Strikeforce’s top heavyweights, which gives fans something engaging to debate. How well do the foreign fighters adjust to fighting in a cage / America / Strikeforce rules? Does Arlovski still symbolically represent the UFC here? Can Josh Barnett put his licensing and steroid testing issues behind him and compete at the level he did in the PRIDE GPs?

And, of course, the million dollar question: can Fedor bounce back from being submitted in almost a minute last year? (Note: heavy odds on yes.)

Moreover, Strikeforce has two or three alternate matches in the chamber, involving fighters that, while perhaps not at the same level as the main eight, have reasonable credentials of their own, and, should they step up and perform if and when called, could be built into viable company stars.

Behind the Scenes at the Strikeforce HGP Photoshoot:


The answers will reveal themselves soon enough, but in the meantime, here’s a breakdown on this weekend’s card, featuring the first rounds of the Strikeforce World Heavyweight Grand Prix:

155 lbs. – John Cholish x Marc Stevens: Both men step into the cage with college wrestling credentials – Stevens under Josh Koscheck at SUNY (State University of New York) Buffalo and Cholish at Cornell University. Stevens was also Koscheck’s first pick on season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter, though he didn’t perform as expected. Aside from his TUF stint, Stevens didn’t fight in 2010. Stockbroker by day, Cholish is an up-and-coming Renzo Gracie fighter who’s faced some respectable East Coast names (Rich Moskowitz, Hitalo Machado) to earn a 5-1 record, with two submission and TKO wins, respectively. My rule of thumb is that between two ground specialists look for the fight to take place primarily on the feet. That said, how well Stevens has polished his submission defense remains to be seen.

Prediction: Cholish via submission (round three)

170 lbs. – John Salgado x Igor Gracie: Gracie has an even 2-2 record, splitting wins and losses in 2008 and 2009 before taking a break in 2010. Salgado has fought consistently since 2008, at 4-4-1, and will look to snap a two-fight losing streak. This will also be something of a revenge match for Gracie, as Salgado beat Gracie teammate Renato Migliaccio via split decision last April. Assuming this fight takes place at welterweight, as was reported elsewhere, look for Gracie to have the size advantage.

Prediction: Gracie via submission (round one)

265 lbs. – Chad Griggs x Gian Villante: Between their 18 cumulative fights, these men share 13 KO / TKO finishes, so expect fireworks. Griggs recently made his name known as the guy who stopped Bobby Lashley’s undefeated streak. However, Griggs’ only fight between Lashley and 2007 was a first-round KO. Villante is a homegrown hero in New Jersey’s Ring of Combat promotion, going 6-0 from his February 2009 debut to April 2010, mostly first-round TKO and KOs. Griggs’ Lashley win could possibly have lit a fire for him, but Villante will have the advantage of more recent activity.

Prediction: Villante via TKO (round one)

265 lbs. – Valantijn Overeem vs. Ray Sefo: This is an interesting clash of veteran kickboxers at different stages in their careers. Sefo is 2-0, his last win in 2009 against journeyman Kevin Jordan. But Sefo has also been training at Xtreme Couture for at least a year, which isn’t too shabby a place to build one’s overall MMA game. Conversely, the younger Overeem has been more active in the past three years, going 4-2 against mediocre competition in Europe and Japan. With 16 submission wins, don’t be surprised to see Overeem work for the takedown. But don’t be surprised to see Sefo have some surprising answers for those challenges.

Prediction: Overeem via TKO (round one)

265 lbs. – Shane Del Rosario x Lavar Johnson: Experts have been predicting big things for Del Rosario, as a steady-rising prospect with speed and strength. Johnson is also no joke, riding a seven-fight TKO/KO streak since 2008. Both share recent TKO wins over Samoan son Carl Seumanutafa and the heavy-handed Hawaiian Lolohea Mahe. Johnson’s history includes an amazing comeback story from near-death, after taking several gunshots in 2009. He’s 2-0 since then. Del Rosario will have the youth advantage, and likely the edge in cardio and grappling. Though both men like to duke it out, Del Rosario might try to extract Johnson out of his element with takedowns.

Prediction: Del Rosario via TKO or submission (round two).

265 lbs. – Andrei Arlovski x Sergei Kharitonov: Out of 13 matches from 2002 to 2009, Arlovski finished his opponents 11 times, won a unanimous decision over Fabricio Werdum (UFC 70, 2007), and lost only twice, both times to Tim Sylvia. However, he’s also lost his only three matches since 2009, starting with the infamous Fedor-authored KO. Arlovski’s chin has always been suspect, and many say he has never been the same since the Fedor fight. Kharitonov, a former star in PRIDE FC, hasn’t competed against a lot of top talent since that time. Indeed, he KO’ed current Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem, but that was 2007 and against a very different (smaller and 1-3 in his previous four matches) Dutchman. The question is whether Arlovski found his mojo again. If not, Kharitonov may be warmed up and sharp enough to put him away.

Prediction: Kharitonov via unanimous decision.

265 lbs. – Fedor Emelianenko x Antonio Silva: For most, this is a foregone conclusion of Fedor finishing Bigfoot in the first round. To be fair, Silva went the distance with Fabricio Werdum, as opposed to Fedor’s first-round loss to Werdum, but that’s pretty much where it ends. Silva will have the size advantage, but so did Brett Rogers, Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, and Hong Man Choi.

Footage of Fedor (and interviews with everybody else):


Prediction: Emelianenko via TKO / KO (round one).

The Finish

Because so many casual MMA fans 1) started watching after the heyday of PRIDE FC Grand Prix (watch what you can of 2000, 2003, and 2004) and 2) don’t follow Strikeforce as closely as UFC, this tournament is a great opportunity for Coker & Company to establish itself as something more than “the other MMA company.” The collection of talent involved all have legit MMA credentials (over half are former PRIDE GP participants and two are former UFC world champions) and are as memorable as characters and  they are as fighters. Moreover, the fact that six are foreign fighters absolutely gives the grand prix a “global” feel, a sense that these are among the top MMA heavyweights from around the world.

Indeed, after two years of being stuck in the shadow of the UFC, even while working hard to establish its own identity, Strikeforce now has something distinctive to offer the casual MMA fan.

UFC 126 Recap & Results

Posted in Live Event Reports, TV Reports on February 6, 2011 by jaytan716

It wasn’t until after UFC 126 that I noticed the parallels between this and another recent memorable show: WEC 53, that promotion’s curtain call show just two months ago.

Both shows had featured some imaginative babyface match-ups (Donald Cerrone x Chris Horodecki, Forrest Griffin x Rich Franklin), a string of quick finishes in the undercard (four first-round finishes at WEC 53, three at UFC 126), a few anticipated main card matches that fell short of crowd expectations (Dominic Cruz x Scott Jorgensen, Antonio Banuelos x Miguel Angel Torres, even Griffin-Franklin), and of course an iconic kick in each main event (Anthony Pettis’ ‘Showtime Kick’ to Anderson Silva’s Steven Segal front kick) that is sure to be the subject of water cooler talk for at least the next week.

But in a sport like MMA, that’s just coincidence. Instead, the big themes were the continued debut of WEC veterans on the UFC stage (Cerrone, Chad Mendes, Demetrious Johnson), the ‘What If?’ dream match of Griffin-Franklin, Vitor Belfort as the latest challenge to the seemingly unbeatable Anderson Silva, and probably the most resonant outcome – rising star Jon Jones’ unexpected shot at historic greatness.

One of the biggest recurring themes that struck me most (no pun intended) were the size difference in several matches. Kyle Kingsbury’s reach and power stunned Ricardo Romero, giving Kingsbury the opening to finish. Likewise, the big factor in the Banuelos-Torres match seemed to be Banuelos’ inability to get Torres’ timing or penetrate his range to connect, either inside the pocket or from around him. Fans seemed to crap on this match more than any other, though I found Torres’ strategy and footwork entertaining and effective. Cerrone-Kelly and Jones-Bader played out much like many thought it would, but when the bell rang for these respective matches, the disparity was beyond noticeable.

Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson and Carlos Eduardo Rocha continued to make impressions with fans, Johnson for his speed and effortless takedowns on Kid Yamamoto, a nationally-celebrated Japanese wrestler, and Rocha for his constant pressure, particularly in the first round, on Jake Ellenberger, a seasoned wrestler and fighter. Japanese fighters always seem to have a difficult time adjusting to the octagon (not that that’s the explanation, but it’s a trend), and going against a protégé of Matt Hume, who’s been involved in the Japanese MMA scene since the mid-90’s, is almost always going to make a bad day worse. As for Rocha, if anyone took his credentials of having beaten .500-level European fighters lightly, they probably should reconsider that perspective.

In Jon Jones’ case, most had already pegged him as a superstar of tomorrow, and his masterful handling of Ryan Bader, whose previous undefeated streak and wrestling credentials are not to be taken lightly, should have squashed any doubt that there was a title shot in his future. But opportunity shows up on its own time, and for Jones, it literally had a front row ticket, because when announcer Joe Rogan said in the post-fight interview that #1 light heavyweight contender (and Jones’ teammate) Rashad Evans had withdrawn from his March 19th title shot due to injury, UFC champ Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua stepped into the cage and welcomed Jones as his replacement. Challenges in post-fight interviews are nothing new to MMA, but to spring a fighter’s next date like this, especially a title fight, gave the fans something more to discuss than just a spectacular finish.

Speaking of spectacular finishes, to say that Anderson Silva did it again would be an understatement. Almost demonstrating a kicking version of his own ‘throwaway jab’ KO of Forrest Griffin from 18 months ago, Silva stunned the world again with a front kick to Vitor Belfort’s chin that had Belfort knocked out on his feet. It was a few more seconds and two more punches before referee Mario Yamasaki stopped the match, but by that point, the damage was done with the foot to the face.

Like with the Griffin jab, nobody would have thought anything of a front kick, which Silva sold as aiming for the body. But as he demonstrated once again, Silva’s balance, speed, power, and targeting control clearly are such that anybody really needs to be careful if the Spider so much as flings a booger at them.

Here’s how my predictions and reality turned out for UFC 126:

170 lbs. – Mike Pierce vs. Kenny Robertson
Prediction: Robertson via submission (round two or three)
Result: Pierce via TKO (round two)

205 lbs. – Ricardo Romero vs. Kyle Kingsbury
Prediction: Romero via submission (round three)
Result: Kingsbury via TKO (round one)

155 lbs. – Gabe Ruediger vs. Paul Taylor
Prediction: Taylor via TKO (round one)
Result: Taylor via KO (round two)

135 lbs. – Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Demetrious Johnson
Prediction: Johnson by unanimous decision
Result: Johnson by unanimous decision

145 lbs. – Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa
Prediction: Mendes via TKO (round one), though I did say that conventionally, this fight would go to decision
Result: Mendes by unanimous decision.

155 lbs. – Paul Kelly vs. Donald Cerrone
Prediction: Cerrone via submission (round three)
Result: Cerrone via submission (round two)

135 lbs. – Antonio Banuelos vs. Miguel Angel Torres
Prediction: Torres via submission (round two)
Result: Torres via unanimous decision

170 lbs. – Carlos Eduardo Rocha vs. Jake Ellenberger
Prediction: Ellenberger by TKO (round one)
Result: Ellenberger by split decision

205 lbs. – Ryan Bader vs. Jon Jones
Prediction: Jones by unanimous decision
Result: Jones by submission (round two)

205 lbs. – Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin
Prediction: Franklin by TKO (round two or three) or Griffin via split decision
Result: Griffin by unanimous decision

185 lbs. (UFC Middleweight Title) – Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort:
Prediction: Silva by TKO (round three)
Result: Silva by TKO (round one)

The Finish

I’ve already heard feedback from casual fans that this show fell flat, but between the performances of Silva, Jones, Griffin’s ground-and-pound, and the competitiveness of Rocha-Ellenberger, I thought this show delivered. Silva’s kick was an ‘I was there’ moment, as was Rogan’s news to Jones that he was being offered a title shot. To me, that’s part of what makes a live event special. Granted, the crowd did seem surprisingly unresponsive for a lot of the post-fight interviews, and the Torres-Banuelos and Griffin-Franklin matches weren’t the Pier Six brawls that fans hoped for, but neither fight was lackluster enough to blemish an otherwise fun and memorable show past the point of no return.

Moreover, fans only have six weeks, not six months, for one of tonight’s angle to continue. Mark your calendars for March 19th, because if Jones x Rua does indeed come to fruition, as it looks like it will, the challenger’s chase will still be fresh in people’s minds, and MMA fans always love a good storyli – er, title chase.

This entry originally posted at Fightinggeek.com

Predictions for UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort

Posted in Uncategorized on February 5, 2011 by jaytan716

</object>

By now the latest ‘best staredown in UFC history’ is all over the internet (http://www.ufc.com/media/ufc-126-weigh-in-staredown-cutdown in case you missed it), as are most of the experts’ predictions for UFC 126. But now that this is posted and you’re reading this, ALL the (relevant) experts’ predictions are up. Have at it.

170 lbs. – Mike Pierce vs. Kenny Robertson – Hailing from Indiana, Robertson comes into the UFC not just with a perfect 10-0 record, but nine finishes, seven by submission and only one by decision. At 11-3, Pierce is a five-time veteran of Zuffa cages (four UFC fights and one WEC fight), with three going to decision. On one hand, first-time UFC jitters could affect Robertson, but if Pierce isn’t able to finish early (and since 2009, four of six matches have gone the distance), that could give Robertson enough time to catch an arm or leg. Prediction: Robertson via submission (round two or three).

205 lbs. – Ricardo Romero vs. Kyle Kingsbury – After reigning supreme in the New Jersey-base Ring of Combat promotion, Romero ‘got the call’ last year for UFC 116, where he subbed veteran journeyman Seth Petruzelli, adding to Romero’s then-five match finishing win streak. Kingsbury is a longtime resident of San Jose’s AKA (home of UFC champ Cain Velasquez and Josh Koscheck) and standout of Team Nogueira on season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. The Arizona State football vet is punishing in the cage, but isn’t known for finishing opponents, which lends to Romero eventually finding an opening to submit him. Prediction: Romero via submission (round three).

155 lbs. – Gabe Ruediger vs. Paul Taylor – This likely is a loser-leaves-town match for both men, as Taylor’s last six matches have gone the distance, and of those, his record is 2-4. Ruediger did himself no favors on season five of The Ultimate Fighter (2007), getting expelled from the show after failing to make weight, but then sparked a six-match win streak from February 2009 to July 2010, stepped up to fight Joe Lauzon on a two-week notice at UFC 118 in August. Lauzon won by submission, and this match is company reciprocation for being a last-minute replacement in that match. Ruediger’s jiu-jitsu is dangerous, but he’s never been able to implement it to success in the UFC. Taylor has heavy hands, and the longer this match goes, the better Taylor’s chances of overwhelming him. Prediction: Taylor via TKO (round one).

135 lbs. – Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto vs. Demetrious Johnson – A former Japanese star against an undersized youngster on a hot streak. I’ve seen Johnson numerous times in the amateurs and booked his first pro match, but honestly one of the bigger factors for me are Yamamoto’s weaknesses in this situation than Johnson’s strengths. Yamamoto will have the size advantage, but age is against him. Since 2007, he had two decision losses in 2009 and, in 2010, one win against a fighter with less than 10 pro matches. Granted, Yamamoto’s fought in front of larger audiences, but this will be his first time in a UFC cage, whereas Johnson is no stranger to the octagon nor respected fighters with dominant records. One could argue that aside from Yushin Okami and (debatably) Yoshihiro Akiyama, Japanese don’t typically have the best of luck in their UFC debuts. Prediction: Johnson by unanimous decision.

145 lbs. – Chad Mendes vs. Michihiro Omigawa – The undefeated ‘Money’ Mendes (9-0) flies the flag for Team Alpha Male in Northern California, home of Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. Omigawa is a judoka under Hidehiko Yoshida and returns to the UFC on a five-match win streak since mid-2009. He went 0-2 in his last stint against Matt Wiman and Thiago Tavares in 2008, both by unanimous decision. Youth is on Mendes’ side, who is almost 10 years younger than Omigawa. Conventionally, this match would go to decision, but in MMA, logic sometimes doesn’t show up. Prediction: Mendes via TKO (round one).

155 lbs. – Paul Kelly vs. Donald Cerrone – Many have said this match will reveal whether WEC lightweights, of which Cerrone was a star, can hang with UFC-level competition. Despite being a decorated Muay Thai champion, Cerrone owns 11 submission wins out of his 13 victories, and no TKOs or knockouts. And though the WEC title has evaded him on three tries, Cerrone won Fight of the Night honors five times, as well as 2009 Fight of the Year Honors by Sherdog (for his fight against Ben Henderson). Paul Kelly is 5-3 in his eight UFC matches, with three decision wins and one victory each by submission and TKO. Prediction: Cerrone via submission (round three).

135 lbs. – Antonio Banuelos vs. Miguel Angel Torres – Both fighters have a decade of fights under their respective belts and are transfers from the WEC merger into UFC. Banuelos hits hard and hasn’t been finished since 2007 (going 5-2 since then). Torres has 38 wins, 23 by submission (one less than Banuelos’ cumulative record), and went undefeated from 2004 to August 2009. Prediction: Torres via submission (round two).

205 lbs. – Ryan Bader vs. Jon Jones – On paper, Bader has the better wrestling credentials, but in finishing Brandon Vera, Vladimir Matyushenko, Jake O’Brian, and easily handling Matt Hamill (before losing via DQ for illegal use of Dusty Rhodes’ bionic elbows), Jones effectiveness in the cage is undeniable. Bader surprised many in his split decision win over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, but aside from that match, Jones has dominated against tougher respective competition. The real question is whether Jones will finish or if Bader will take him to the distance. Prediction: Jones via unanimous decision.

170 lbs. – Carlos Eduardo Rocha vs. Jake Ellenberger – With a 9-0 record of eight submissions, seven of those in the first round, Rocha’s jiu-jitsu is legit. Ellenberger, while an assistant wrestling coach for University of Nebraska, has almost 30 matches, half of which are victories by TKO or knockout. He lost a split decision to Carlos Condit, also a jiu-jitsu whiz. On one hand, Ellenberger knows how to avoid submissions, but he hasn’t fought someone of Rocha’s jiu-jitsu pedigree. Then again, lots of fighters like to point out “jiu-jitsu is different when you’re getting punched in the face.” The later rounds favor Ellenberger, but he’ll always be in danger of getting caught. Prediction: Ellenberger by TKO (round one).

205 lbs. – Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin – To use the wrestling parlance, I love babyface vs. babyface and heel vs. heel matches, and this is every bit the former that one could ask. Griffin is a tall 205’er and Franklin is a 185’er who, in the later years of his career, is returning to 205. Griffin’s matches are always brutal, thrilling dogfights, and his wins over Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua speak volumes, but those were both over two years ago. Since then, he’s succumbed to strikes from Anderson Silva (who wouldn’t?) and Rashad Evans (see Anderson Silva). The question becomes ‘can Rich Franklin strike as fast and as hard as they did?’ Unfortunately, this isn’t the Randy Couture vs. Matt Hume strategic chess match that I would have loved to see, which, without taking anything away from Jorge Gurgel, could play an understated factor in the outcome. Prediction: Franklin by TKO (round two or three) or Griffin via split decision.

185 lbs. (UFC Middleweight Title) – Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort: For me, the question here is simply ‘which Victor Belfort will show up?’ Skillwise, both men possess baffling hand speed and accuracy, and as former training partners, their mutual awareness of each others’ skills is there too. Many would say that Chael Sonnen exposed the key to beating Silva, and with Belfort working with Xtreme Couture, not only was that key surely noted, but likely also built upon at the Couture compound. That said, between the bad blood and the seeming inability for anyone to defeat Silva, it’s hard to envision that the Spider would show up unprepared and lacking. Prediction: Silva by TKO (round three).

The Finish

From the street to the suite, UFC 126 is the first show I’ve been excited about in a long time. I’m one of the few that were entertained by Silva’s in-cage antics against Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Damian Maia. But I’m also excited about seeing someone who could actually offer some striking competition to the elusive Spider. I think Griffin x Franklin is imaginative and competitive, while Jones x Bader is crucial for the future of the 205 division. Likewise, the groundswell of demand to see Johnson x Yamamoto, which will now be streamed live (and free) at www.Facebook.com/UFC at 8:00pm EST / 5:00pm PST, is a great sign of lower-weight fighters getting the mainstream recognition they deserve.

This entry originally posted at Fightinggeek.com

Wrestling Weekend Overdose

Posted in Op-Ed, Pro Wrestling with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 2, 2011 by jaytan716

Between two nights of tremendous pro wrestling (thanks to WrestleReunion 2011) and one night of a curious, if not wasted, kickoff to the high season of sports entertainment (thanks to WWE), it’s been quite awhile since I took in so much wrestling. Surely, it’s that overdose, coupled with the vast contrasts in product and attitude, that draws me to wax poetic about what I saw and the impressions it made.

First, a one-time pitch of my background. I’ve worked behind the scenes in MMA for the past five years, though my heart and roots are firmly based in pro wrestling. I was trading tapes and reading the Wrestling Observer Newsletter before the internet, and had a very part-time exploration into the life of a pro wrestler, training and working less than a dozen matches in the early 2000’s. As an ex-wrestler, I consider myself more ‘ex’ than ‘wrestler,’ though I like to think that the experience of creating a gimmick and striving to work a logical, entertaining match for the few hundred fans that saw Kung Pow, the Howlin’ Shaolin Master of Disaster, offers me some credibility. Indeed, it’s a moment in my life I wouldn’t trade for anything.

To that end, WrestleReunion prove to be surprisingly enjoyable mix of old friends, older legends, and a strong dose of that good stuff which we all enjoy – fast-paced, high-impact, holy-shit memorable pro wrestling. Conversely, WWE’s inaugural PPV of 2011, the Royal Rumble, was another exercise of letdown and mild heartache – some fun new storylines and characters worth rallying for but denied the chance to make a meaningful impression on the few hundred thousand (and dwindling) households that tuned in to watch.

WrestleReunion – ROH and PWG Shows

For the past several years, West coast wrestling fans have read with envy about the conventions and fanfests in New Jersey, North Carolina, Chicago, Orlando, and Toronto. We yearned for that same experience here, and as Bill Apter and his team have delivered it twice now, fans have continued to bask in it such that Apter himself was able to confirm a 2012 edition on the second night of the show.

In a nutshell, the weekend was wrestling’s answer to Comic-Con and the annual Cauliflower Alley Convention in Las Vegas (though wrestling fans would do themselves justice to attend that one as well). The three-day event served several purposes: old school veterans got a chance to gather, laugh and reminisce about their adventures, aspiring and current talent got to interact with the OGs and show their skills over two fantastic shows, and younger fans got to meet both generations of wrestling stars.

To their credit (and nobody’s surprise), Ring of Honor and Pro Wrestling Guerrilla both produced two tremendous shows on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Two important things stuck out to me over this weekend. First, it was great to see a forum where various generations of wrestlers and fans could engage so readily. I think it can’t be overstated how important it is that the pro wrestling community celebrates its legends and draws from the insight and perspective they offer. Not only is it just proper protocol to respect your elders, but in that people like “Superstar” Billy Graham, Jake Roberts, Terry Funk, Roddy Piper, and countless others (both attending and absent) built their fan base by simply getting over live and on weekly TV, without constant resources like YouTube, Twitter, DVDs and T-shirts, they offer a wealth of insight and wisdom from which independent wrestlers on the rise can build their own brands.

The other aspect of note for me was how much the talent on both nights put on their work boots and shot in with their best foot forward. Sure, ROH and PWG wrestlers aren’t known for calling it in, but in that WrestleReunion clearly was drawing an impressive roster of legends and a near-capacity crowd of fans, both squads seemed to recognize that if there was a time to bring their A-game, it was this weekend. It reminded me of how WrestleMania has come to be the night where wrestlers of all levels take more pride in having the best match possible than at any other point in the year. To that end, the ‘this is awesome’ chants and standing ovations were abundant on both nights, for the main events on down to the curtain-jerkers.

Hats go off to El Generico, for whom this must have been a special weekend. I’m not enough of an indie wrestling historian to know how often this has been done, but to headline back-to-back title matches certainly is a vote of confidence on behalf of the bookers. Likewise, kudos to Davey Richards, TJ Perkins and Low Ki, whose respective matches were my two personal favorites of each night. Richards x Perkins was a fantastic exercise in the brilliance of chain wrestling, while Richards x Low Ki took me on a match storyline ride that I haven’t enjoyed since the days of Japan in the early 90’s.

In all, the fact that old timers, fast risers, and fans of all ages got to rub shoulders so closely together affirmed for me that I was glad to be a part of this community. Pro wrestling deserves its Comic-Con, west coast fans deserve an annual event like this, and the legends of yesterday and indie stars of today and tomorrow deserve the chance to be celebrated as such.

WWE’s Royal Rumble

On the other hand, the Royal Rumble seemed content to underwhelm and fall short of delivering anything memorable.

In the first decade of this century, the Rumble grew beyond its own significance into also being the symbolic first step down the Road to WrestleMania, a three-month storyline and marketing campaign to build up the biggest night of the industry. As the tradition has developed, nowadays we watch the Rumble not only to see who wins, but also to get a sense of what we’ll see at the “Showcase of the Immortals.”

Given that, I was looking forward to seeing a continued build of the New Nexus and the Corre, both of whom intrigue me (notwithstanding Corre’s stupid name). Of course, Alberto Del Rio seems to have a booking rocket ship up his ass, so there was also the question about how he’d be handled (which we all know by now). Finally, I always enjoy seeing what compelling, creative finish the ‘producers’ would come up with, as there have been so many poignant and indelible Royal Rumble wins – Chris Benoit in 2004, Rey Misterio in 2006, and the Undertaker in 2007, to name a few.

I really liked how the Rumble started out, with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan getting an early chance to ply their trade with each other, and the steady entrance and subsequent domination by the New Nexus. This felt like a redux of Punk’s extended ‘Rumble control’ in 2010. And though the match itself started out with a brief Nexus x Corre, I was happy that angle was, for the most part, avoided.

However, things took a downturn midway through, and those angles seemed to have marred what was on its way to being another memorable (and story-building) battle royal.

First, as long as there is Primo, David Hart Smith, Trent Barretta, Joey Mercury, Darren Young, Goldust, the Usos, Skip Sheffield, or even Michael Tarver and his annoying snotrag, there is NO RELEVANT REASON to include Hornswaggle in this match. The end result was only a couple of comedy spots that contributed nothing to the already overbooked match.

Likewise, Booker T and Kevin Nash as surprise entries, while clearly a big hit with the fans, annoyed me. If they’re signed to longer-term deals, their appearances certainly were anti-climactic and forgettable, other than to say “hey guys, we’re back!” Are we to take these ‘legends’ seriously in the WWE Universe when both were quietly put to pasture within three minutes? Booker was eliminated by Mason Ryan, of all people – the guy who has less screen time than Michael Tarver’s snotrag.

I suppose I should be thankful that Punk and his Nexus got the screen time that they did, although their eliminations by Cena had no resonance and almost felt like quiet little feud blowoffs, leaving their control of the Rumble’s early minutes a seeming waste of focus.

The part that I’m most curious about is Santino Marella’s false longevity in the Rumble. Being one of Marella’s most ardent fans (I still think his IC title reign should have culminated in a match with Honky Tonk Man), I’m all for giving the guy some shine, but what really was the purpose of him lasting to the end? He continues to be a WWE tag team champion (as I write this part post-Raw) and is no more devious or heroically accomplished for being the 39th dump of the night. And if the goal is to build Alberto Del Rio into a WrestleMania headliner, you do so by having him survive the Cobra? I’m not salty that Del Rio is getting this push, but the fashion in which he won his WrestleMania title match was more than a little flat (as if April 3rd didn’t already feel that way).

The Finish

By 8pm Sunday evening, the weekend had reconfirmed a few things about the indie wrestling scene and the more mainstream sports entertainment product. The two still have their love-hate relationship, with a generation of young wrestlers toiling to excel in their craft while in pursuit of the big paycheck, while The Big Two continue to flirt with giving the reigns to talents like Bryan Danielson, CM Punk, Low Ki, AJ Styles, Samoa Joe, and (hopefully eventually) Claudio Castignoli, though there’s still a reticence to fully pull the trigger. In the end, the struggle between art and commerce in pro wrestling continues, as perhaps it always will. Thankfully, however, we have the OGs of wrestling to give us perspective.

This entry was originally posted at FightingGeek.com