MMA Life

MMA Life

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These days, there are plenty of places for a professional mixed martial artist to fight, but everyone has their eyes on one prize: the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It’s the pinnacle of the sport, and without a doubt the biggest show in town. Walk into almost any bar or barbershop and to start a conversation on MMA. The response will usually go something like, “you mean Ultimate Fighting?”

 

Fight fans are still evolving, and so are the fighters themselves. To make it to the top in today’s game, a fighter has to have it all: cardio/stamina, striking, submissions, and good takedowns. Missing just one piece of the puzzle can spell disaster, and so can an untimely loss.

 

With so many fighters to choose from, the UFC has made a habit of throwing new talent to the wolves in an effort to see who will come out on top – the experienced fighter or the young guy with raw ability and a good work ethic? It’s a formula that has created many exciting match-ups, but hindered some careers in the process.

 

Dan “The Upgrade” Lauzon is the youngest fi ghter to compete in the UFC. He made the jump to the big leagues after only four fights, and debuted against Spencer Fisher. But despite the tough task laid in front of him, it was a challenge HE asked for.

 

“They called [my brother] because they wanted him to fight Fisher the following month [after he knocked out Jens], but Joe took time off to train. Our manager, Chris Palmquist, said, ‘His brother will fight him.’ I guess they asked like three or four other people and no one wanted it. So they gave the fight to me,” Lauzon said.

 

Most fans remember UFC 64 as the event where Rich Franklin lost his middleweight title to Anderson Silva, but after a shocking first-round knockout of Jens Pulver by Joe Lauzon at UFC 63, everyone was eager to see if lightning could strike twice for the brothers from Bridgewater, Massachusetts.

 

Despite some killer hands, The Upgrade chose to try and attack Fisher’s ground game (having won each of his four wins by submission in the past), but to no avail. In the end, it was Fisher who won by TKO at 4:38 of the first round. Since then, the younger Lauzon has yet to return to the Octagon, but has been on a tear ever since. He’s now 7-2, with every win since UFC 64 coming by knockout or TKO.

 

“They wanted to bring me back for doing them a favor and taking the [Fisher] fight on short notice, but I didn’t really want to come back right away due to lack of experience,” he said.

 

“My first four wins were all by submission. I would go in, and all I would do is grapple, not really throwing punches. Then I had two close fights, and my last three have all been (T)KOs, mixing in my strikes. Everything is coming together real nice.”

 

Kevin “The Shaman” Jordan was also pushed to his limits upon entering the Octagon back at UFC 53, when he faced Paul “The Headhunter” Buentello. Jordan was no slouch, holding a 7-3 record with plenty of wins by decision as well as TKOs. But when it came time for the fighter’s UFC debut, the UFC threw him in the cage with Buentello, a man with almost three times as many fights.

 

Jordan lost by guillotine in the first round, but got another chance at UFC 55 against Gabriel Gonzaga. Those two had one hell of a fight, but in round three, it was Gonzaga who finished the fight by KO.

 

After two consecutive losses on MMA’s biggest stage, Jordan returned to fight in smaller

shows while Gonzaga became a household name, knocking out Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and making a run at Randy Couture’s UFC Heavyweight Championship.

 

Today, The Shaman is a champion in his own right, after beating Carlos Moreno for the Battle Cage Xtreme belt in Atlantic City. He hasn’t lost a step, even though he lost twice in the Octagon.

 

Even the undefeated fighters picked up by the UFC have targets on their heads. Whether it’s 5-0 or 10-0, at this level competitors have to be ready to kick it up a notch if they want to keep a donut in the loss column.

 

That’s what Frankie “The Answer” Edgar (8-0, 5-0 when he entered the UFC) had to do when pitted against Tyson Griffin (10-0 before fighting Edgar). Edgar took all three rounds of his first UFC fight with Griffin, but got caught in a knee bar, late in the final round.

 

“When I first got caught, I was telling myself, ‘Oh shit,’ but at that point, I couldn’t tap. I felt I was ahead on the scorecard and had to tough it out,” he said. “The last ten seconds, I got out
of the knee bar and started hitting him, trying to get that back.”

 

Since then, Edgar has gone on to defeat both Mark Bocek and even Spencer “The King” Fisher in front of a home crowd at UFC 78 in Newark, New Jersey.

 

“I think that’s the way to go, especially now in the UFC,” Edgar said. “You might as well fight a guy who’s a name. If you want to go up in the rankings and make this a career, the best thing you can do is go out and fight the best guys.”

 

That’s what the “Barn Cat” was thinking, when he signed up to fight Akhiro Gono. A 10-0 welterweight with an almost legendary reach, Tamdan McCrory has never had a problem picking on the older guys. After all, he did defeat 30-year-old Mike Littlefield for the N.A.B.C. Welterweight title, and submitted 36 year-old Pete Spratt with a triangle in his UFC debut.

 

“He’s definitely the most experienced of all the fighters I faced, but I look at it as another way to make my stock rise,” McCrory said. “I’ve been fighting a lot of guys that are his age and older, so I guess I’m starting to get used to it.”

 

McCrory took the fight to Gono the entire time, but after winning the first round hands down, he made an error that cost him. Gono mounted the 6’4” welterweight, and waited for him to turn over, catching him in a deep arm bar from which there was no escape. McCrory lost by verbal tap at 2:19 of the second round, and felt defeat for the first time in his three years as a mixed martial artist.

 

The talent pool of fighters in MMA is growing, and the road to the top has gotten even more rigorous. In today’s world, a UFC fighter has to win, keep winning, and do it in an entertaining fashion.

 

“There are a lot of tough guys competing out there. I think it just comes down to good match making,” Lauzon said.

 

It’s a lot like King of the Mountain, that game kids play, where one boy would run to the top of a hill and do his best to keep everyone else in the class off the peak by any means necessary. One wrong step and it’s back to the belly of the beast.

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The popularity of mixed martial arts in the civilian world cannot be disputed. Thousands of weekly events and tournaments, hundreds of schools, and millions of fans keep the sport moving closer in fame to the big three: basketball, football, and baseball. Every day, more people are getting involved in the ultimate fi ghting system.

If it really is the ultimate, shouldn’t it be taught to our men and women in uniform? Should the world’s premier fi ghting forces be trained in the world’s premier fi ghting system? In general practice, yes.

Currently, the US military is as much in love with MMA as everyone else in the nation. Sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Marines alike are fans of the sport. And thanks to some very aggressive marketing and fl exibility on the military’s part, these protectors of our nation are becoming MMA practitioners as well. Most notably in the US Army, which has embraced MMA and made it a part of its culture, allowing its men and women to participate freely in the sport. In fact, they are even training them in it.

Modern Army Combatives (MAC) is a new system of hand-to-hand training now being taught to all members of the US Army. It is a multi-level system that begins with basic grappling, moves on to striking, and eventually to the use of weapons. Essentially, it is MMA 101 for each and every army trooper. Clips of the training progression can be found on YouTube and the US Army website.

In fact, the US Army has begun to host MMA tournaments of their own, a tradition going back to the days when each unit had a wrestling, boxing, and even pingpong champion. Competition breeds excellence and boosts moral. The All-Army Invitational Tournament is a three-round fi ghting contest, consisting of one round of BJJ, one of Pancrase, and one of full-on MMA. IFL star and Army Ranger Tim Kennedy comes from those roots. The troops love it and so do the fans. But what about America’s top warriors, the special ops guys? How does MMA fi t into their training and operations? Sad to say, it doesn’t. The jobs of most special operations units are highly specialized. Unlike in the movies, where a single team of SEALs or Green Berets can accomplish all tasks assigned, most special ops units equip and train their personnel to do specifi c jobs. Whether it is raids and ambushes carried out by Army Rangers, securing a moving vessel at sea as done by the SEALs, or a hostage rescue mission accomplished by CAG (aka Delta Force), special ops guys tend to be specialists rather than jacks-of-all-trades.

Their nonstop training and deployment cycles leave little time for training in hand-to-hand combat beyond the basics needed specifi cally for the job. Commandos are not are poorly trained – quite the contrary – but they spend less time in the fi ght gym than they do in the fi eld, in the sky, and on shooting ranges.

Some special units are being taught BJJ. But how effective is it in combat, wearing fi fty pounds of gear and carrying an M4? A Ranger buddy of mine used it when his unit attempted to subdue a fi fty-year-old Egyptian mercenary fi ghting in Iraq. After a mile-long running gun battle, it came down to a hand-to-hand encounter as they attempted to take the old guy into custody. Imagine the scene: a pissed off old geezer fi ghting for his life with a Ranger on each limb cranking it to their fullest. It jacked the guy up beyond belief, but did not take the fi ght out of him. Why? Because people fi ghting for their lives don’t tap.

In another incident, a prisoner slipped his restraints while in a HumVee. One of the vigilant troopers took his back and choked the guy out. Good stuff. That is, until the truck hit a bump and the combined weight of the terrorist, soldier and all his gear snapped the guy’s neck.

Most units are taught hand-to-hand combat that is specifi c to their needs, as part of their CQB (Close Quarters Battle) training. This tends to consist of a combination of shooting skills and nonlethal techniques ranging from muzzle strikes with their weapons (a SEAL buddy of mine saw an eye popped out of socket with one), to basic control and arrest techniques that are more likely to be seen on Cops than in the UFC. It is not that MMA doesn’t work. It is just that it does not fi t the operational environment in which most of our country’s top soldiers are fi ghting. Terrorists tend to shoot guns, not attempt double leg takedowns.

Additionally, MMA training can be injurious. A recent visit to one of the Midwest’s famous fi ghting camps left an elite member of the Navy’s anti-terror unit with a blown out knee. When it takes $2 million of tax dollars to train a single tier one commando, I don’t want him receiving a career-ending injury rolling with anyone I see on pay-per-view! They can do that when they retire.

The reality is that the war does not happen in the Octagon. The methods, techniques, and skills, though benefi cial to a soldier, are not readily transferable to the modern-day battlefi eld.

As a person who trains individuals from the special operations community, I fi nd it amazing that many of these units train with MMA fi ghters as part of their sanctioned and taxpayer-subsidized training. For conditioning, confi dence, and something to use off-duty against drunken townies, I get it. But for keeping America safe, I think not.

Nevertheless, I understand the attraction. Warriors of all sorts understand one another better than the rest of the world. And those who grace the cage are no less warriors than those who walk the battlefi eld. However, one uses an arm bar on a fellow competitor, while the other issues a double tap to the head of an enemy. Two very different worlds.

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Four decades after the classic novel, Stockton continues to instill hope and pride in the ring.

Just where is the legendary fighting town known as Fat City? Stockton, California, is only a 90-minute drive from San Francisco, but is, in many senses, worlds away. It isn’t defined by technology or tourism as much as it is by agriculture and, to an extent, fighting. For generations, it has been a hub of the San Joaquin Valley, one of the major produce regions in the United States.

In recent years, Stockton has mostly been known for its problems: violence, drugs, and empty or abandoned homes. In 2011, Forbes ranked Stockton the worst U.S. city to live in, citing foreclosures, unemployment, and crime. The city moved to the 11th position in 2012, but according to most reports, it’s not a place you want to be. It’s a place you should leave.

Stockton is also the setting of Fat City, perhaps the greatest boxing novel written in American literature. The title of the 1969 novel is ironic—it means that you’ll reach for the good life but never achieve it. Author Leonard Gardner, who grew up there, perfectly captured the rogue’s gallery of fighting: the strivers and the marginal characters who populate gyms and corners. Four decades after the novel and John Huston film adaptation, fighting is still a point of pride for Stockton, whether it’s the exploits of hometown MMA stars Nick and Nate Diaz or the boxers who compete in local gymnasiums and clubs.

It’s easy to see that Stockton is having tough times. The downtown is largely quiet in mid-summer, although a few people make their way into bars and businesses. Storefronts are vacant. But the downtown streets only tell part of the story.

Legendary boxer Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez’s Stockton gym has thick bars on the windows and a fenced-in parking lot. Classic boxing photos line the walls, including one of Lopez smiling with Muhammad Ali. Younger boxers hit speed bags. The salty smell of sweat lingers, and air conditioning is a daydream. Lopez’s old cornerman, 88-year-old Hank Pericle, watches the action from a chair near the ring.

Lopez, a boxing Hall of Famer, was born in Mexico and later raised in Stockton. When his legendary career ended, he worked as a garbage man in Stockton. Boxing helped him purchase a home in town for his mother but didn’t give him financial security, so he went back to work. Two discs in his spine dissolved after years on the job, and he looked for ways to give back to the city that built him into a boxer. He settled on a downtown gym. It wasn’t just meant to be a place where people came to learn to fight. It was also meant to build a community.

“My goal is to help youngsters go straight,” says Lopez, who is still agile and strong despite the battles. “There are plenty of people in this town who go to the wrong places and do bad stuff. If I save even one or two people than I’m more than happy.”

Yaqui Lopez’s Fat City Boxing teaches that salvation comes from discipline rather than championships. Gritty optimism and hard work reign. Many of his boxers had troubles before they came here for a second chance. The gym has become a second home.

If they don’t have enough money to pay the monthly dues ($65 if you are older than 13 and $45 if you are younger) Lopez will sometimes cover them. The boxers see part of their story in Lopez’s journey—a glimmer of hope, a shot at the American dream, a chance to make something of themselves.
One of Lopez’s boxers is 26-year-old Abel Michael Carreon. Carreon’s brother was killed several blocks from the gym in a shooting. Carreon called Lopez repeatedly years ago and asked him to teach him to box. Lopez finally agreed.

When he first trained with Lopez, Carreon stood in front of a heavy bag and threw random punches. Lopez taught him to move properly, to stand on his toes, and punch efficiently. The workouts quickly got harder and more rewarding. In his two-plus year pursuit of boxing, Carreon sees a way to grow and avoid the temptations of the street. “When my brother passed away, I was out in the streets and it slowed me down,” he says. “Before I trained with Yaqui, I was trying to build a routine. He was the one who told me ‘let’s do this.’ Now, I try to talk to kids and get them to come down here and see if they might have talent. This place keeps me focused instead of being out there chilling and drinking and smoking. I feel like I’m doing a lot better. When I got here, I thought it would just be throwing my fists, but this is a thinking game.”

Ask someone from Stockton about their home and you’ll hear nothing but pride. It’s what makes Nick Diaz wear Stockton sweatshirts at UFC press conferences and shout “Stockton” in the cage. Surveys can’t measure heart, which is what defines a fighter or a city. Even after his successful boxing career, Lopez didn’t leave Stockton. Heart is why Lopez is revered here for going 14 rounds with light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad in 1980 before a TKO stopped the fight. It wasn’t about what he wore around his waist. His spirit is what mattered.

Lopez says his gym is all about honoring that spirit and instilling it in younger fighters who might be tempted with crime or gangs. He’s heard the bad things about his hometown but insists he can find something greater by creating a makeshift family. He’s even offered his services to MMA fighters. They come here to work on hand speed, to learn to move with punches, and spar with boxers. Lopez, however, hasn’t become a fan of mixed martial arts. “I don’t like it because people are knocked down and they are still kicking!” he says, laughing.

He teaches his fighters the old ways: early roadwork; hard and frequent sparring; nimble counter punches that find elusive openings. Jose Chavez, 23 years old, has embraced his methods. The 1-1 amateur decided to start boxing again after high school. He now wakes up in the morning to do his road work and spends hours in the gym in the hopes of becoming a professional boxer. “When you are with Yaqui you can just feel his energy and experience, “ Chavez says, as sweat pours off his forehead. “He’s firm and he is really a perfectionist. He doesn’t want you to try to hit hard with improper technique. The power and the speed come later.”

The novel Fat City ends on a sour note. The aging veteran Tully wins a fight but realizes that his career—which never really took off—is an afterthought. The green, young boxer Munger starts his professional boxing career, but his path is uncertain. There’s a slight implication that he needs to leave Stockton behind to avoid becoming a jaded former fighter imprisoned by memories of the ring.

Lopez doesn’t ever plan to leave. In some senses, his gym offers a hopeful epilogue to the novel. He doesn’t want to abandon his city because of the challenges. He wants to work to make it better. His mission is to offer people a sense of purpose no matter what people say about Stockton.

Lopez shares a story to illustrate the importance of his work. Two of his young boxers knew each other from the streets. Their beef continued when they got to the gym. Lopez told the boys—both about 150 pounds—that they had to spar, but they initially resisted. “They got into the ring and they wanted to kill each other, but now they are good friends,” Lopez says. “Before that, they hated each other.”

With that, Lopez returns to the gym. There are plenty of mitts to hold.

Lopez’s Fat City Boxing club is a non-profit. Please visit yaquilopezsfatcityboxing.com to learn more or friend the gym on Facebook.

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Win or lose, ‘The California Kid’ talks about the importance of believing in yourself against any opponent.

 

 

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Ring of Fire brought the action to Buckley Air Force Base for the inaugural Buckley MMA Fight Night.

All too often, phrases like “this is going to be a war” and “preparing for battle” are carelessly thrown around to describe a mixed martial arts bout. Those words, however, have an entirely different meaning for the men and women serving in the United States Military. For them, those descriptions can literally mean they are going to put their lives on the line to defend our country and our freedom—and for them, there’s no tapping out.

Colorado-based MMA promoter and Ring of Fire founder Sven Bean appreciates the commitment our U.S. Servicemen have made, and that’s why he wanted to bring a ROF show to Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colorado.

“I have always supported the Wounded Warrior Project and have been a big supporter of the troops my entire life,” Bean says. “These men and women are out there risking their lives and making huge scarifies, and this is a very small way to give back to them.”

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Working in conjunction with Shameless MMA Productions, MRI supplements, the Colorado State Boxing Commission, and Buckley Air Force Base, Bean made history February 9, 2013, when he staged Buckley MMA Fight Night, the first sanctioned MMA event on an active military base in Colorado. A portion of the Ustream pay-per-view proceeds went to the Wounded Warrior Project, and the show was viewed almost exclusively by the military personnel on the base.

Bean had a lot of help making his dream a reality.

“It’s been wonderful working with the Federal Government on this event,” says Josef Mason, program director of the Colorado State Boxing Commission. “We really appreciate what these men and women do for our country, and we’re happy to bring them an MMA event”.

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Chief Master Sergeant William Ward, Command Chief for the 460th Space Wing, is a boxing fan, but he knows the sport of MMA is exploding in popularity right now. “The younger Airmen are fans of MMA,” he says. “And we’re always trying to find events that they can attend here on the installation—where they can stay here, have a good time, and improve their moral. The military knows discipline is important, and most of these fighters are very disciplined. But it also relates to combatives, which we do as part of self-defense in the military, so MMA coincides with the military mission of discipline and mindset.”

Established in 1943 by the U.S. Army, the base was named in honor of World War I Army pilot John Harold Buckley, and it is home to the 460th Space Wing and the Colorado Air National Guard. It serves more than 92,000 active duty, National Guard, reserve, and retired personnel. One of the main missions of the 460th Space Unit is to deliver global infrared missile tracking surveillance, or as Master Sergeant and Superintendant of Public Relations Jill Lavoie said: “When someone launches a missile anywhere in the world, we see it here first.”

Fight Night

The card was headlined by UFC veteran and native Coloradoan Tyler Toner, as he faced-off against Bellator veteran Cody Carillo. While Toner impressed the military crowd with a dominating second-round TKO, the applause and support he received was no where near the ovation two Airmen making their fighting debuts—and representing Buckley—heard when they stepped into the cage.

Rick “The Reach” Van Seters, a 19-year-old Airman with the 460th Space Communications Squadron, who deals with cyber-security, began training taekwondo and Muay Thai in high school. He was matched up against James Nakashima of Omaha, Nebraska, in a Muay Thai fight.

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“I had my Group Commander and my Squadron Commander there, so there were a lot of people cheering me on, but it definitely put some pressure on me,” says Van Seters. “It was some give and take but it was really good to hear all the people cheering.”
Van Seters lost a hard-fought unanimous decision to Nakashima, but he vowed to come back and train harder.

Staff Sergeant and heavy equipment operator Todd Scheffield began training army combatives in 2001 and jumped at the opportunity to test himself against experienced and undefeated professional Jeremiah Talley.

“Fighting on Buckley—where I work—was a great experience. I had lots of guys from the shops here and a bunch of friends and family,” says Scheffield. “Walking into my first fight, I was kind of numb and had tunnel vision, but once they announced my name and I heard the roar of the crowd, I knew all the people were behind me. It became very real at that point.”

The fight didn’t exactly go as planned for Scheffield. After Talley caught a leg kick and planted Scheffield on his back, Talley unleashed some vicious ground-and-pound. Referee Tim Mills stopped the fight at 2:30 of the first round.

“I actually accomplished more than 95 percent of the people out there,” says Scheffield. “I got in that cage and went at it with a guy who trains six days a week. I have this full-time job, and I train when I can. I’m proud of my effort.”

So was U.S. Air Force Command Chief Master Ward.

“It’s a source of pride for the base that our Airmen walked into that cage against professional fighters and were able to hold their own,” he says. “I’m very proud of those kids tonight.”

Promoter Bean was thrilled with the results and looks to do more of these events in the future. “The goal is to do a couple more here at Buckley, and we also have interest from an Air Force base in California. I’m very excited to see where this may go.”

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Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome: This is the unoffi cial mantra of the U.S. Marine Corps. Why? Because Marines are badasses who typically have to think on their feet and adjust their tactics accordingly. Marines do not make excuses. Likewise, mixed martial artists have to be able to think on their feet. Fortunately, no one is shooting AK-47s at fi ghters, which allows them room for error in their improvisations. Some of their improvised tactics are good, some are bad, and some are just plain FUBAR. Here are the 10 that left me wondering, “Did he really just do that?”

10. Flying Front Flip

Harold Howard vs. Steve Jennum UFC 4, 1994

Back when mullets were the preferred haircut of karate black belts, Howard completed a fl ying front fl ip for purposes of accentuating his golden locks (at least that’s my best guess). The fl ip came nowhere close to touching Jennum, who then beat Howard into oblivion with a furry of punches. Howard also loses style points for not sticking the landing.

9. Crane Kick

Sean Salmon vs. Rashad Evans UFC Fight Night 8, 2007

Taking a page out of the Karate Kid’s notebook, Salmon delivered a perfectly executed crane kick. The problem was that Evans was on the other side of the Octagon. However, Salmon would make the UFC highlight reel after Evans dropped him with a devastating leg kick in the second round. Mr. Miyagi surely would have been impressed.

8. Flying Dropkick

Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Eric “Butterbean” Esch PRIDE Bushido 12, 2006

What’s better than opening a match with a fl ying dropkick? Minowa can answer that question. He delivered two fl ying dropkicks to Butterbean in the fi rst 15 seconds of their fi ght. The 400-pounder swatted Minowa away like a gnat, but minutes later the Japanese catch-wrestler had Butterbean tapping to an armbar. It should be noted that Butterbean has eaten barbecue sandwiches bigger than the 180-pound Minowa.

7. Piledriver

Bob Sapp vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira PRIDE Shockwave, 2002

In the opening seconds of the bout, Sapp countered Nogueira’s double-leg attempt by lifting him in the air and piledriving him down to the canvas ala Jerry “The King” Lawler. Big Nog rebounded from the slam and a substantial beating and submitted Sapp in the second round via armbar. Sapp has since found fame as the spokesman for Nissin Instant Noodles.

6. Humping Worm Slam

Georges St. Pierre vs. Matt Hughes III UFC 79, 2007

While St. Pierre had Hughes mounted in the fi rst round, he decided to soften up the Country Boy with several pelvic-thrust slams. It wasn’t ascetically pleasing, but it did make Hughes uncomfortable enough that he relinquished his body lock. Perhaps in the recesses of Hughes’ brain, he decided it was better to lose via armbar than be humped unconscious.

5. The EYENOOGIE

Mark Kerr vs. Dan Bobish UFC 14, 1997

Known for his wrestling ability and groundn- pound attack, Kerr may have felt he was becoming too one-dimensional as a mixed martial artist. So, after taking Bobish down with a double-leg and mounting him, Kerr applied the “chin to eye,” forcing the tap at 1:38 in the fi rst round. Mark Hunt may have the toughest chin in MMA, but Mark Kerr has the most technical chin. Imagine the damage Jay Leno could do.

4. Ball ANNIHILATOR

Keith Hackney vs. Joe Son UFC 4, 1993

Before Son became famous for playing the hat-throwing Random Task in Austin Powers, he was known for having his testicles repeatedly pulverized by Hackney. Crotch shots were legal in the UFC at this time, and Hackney sure took advantage of this rule as he forced Son to tap from a combination testicle strike/neck choke. I can say with absolute certainty that no one will ever lose again via “testi-choke.”

3. Ass Spanker

Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Ryan Gracie PRIDE 12, 2002

Sakuraba is renown both for beating numerous Gracies and utilizing unorthodox techniques. He decided to kill two birds with one stone in 2002 when he literally spanked Ryan Gracie’s ass several times while mixed up in a scramble on the ground. After the spanking, Saku fi guratively spanked Gracie’s ass with a unanimous-decision victory. Gracie can count himself fortunate that he was not the recipient of Saku’s double Mongolian chop.

2. THE SMOTHER

Emmanuel Yarborough vs. Tatsuaki Nakano Shoot the Shooto XX, 1998

When you weigh more than 700 pounds, it’s only natural to use all that fat to your advantage. And that’s exactly what Yarborough did when he plopped his belly on Nakano’s face and won the fi ght via smother. This is the lone victory of Yarborough’s career, and it truly is “fat-tastic.”

1. Atomic Butt Drop

Mark Hunt vs. Wanderlei Silva PRIDE Shockwave, 2004

What do you do when your opponent lies on the mat and will not get up? Some fi ghters kick. Some fi ghters pass guard. Some fi ghters reign down punches. If you are Mark Hunt, you take this opportunity to leap in the air and drop your ass onto Silva’s torso, thus inventing the atomic butt drop. Silva quickly reversed Hunt’s ass, but, in the end, Hunt got the split-decision victory. Hunt also has been known to modify the atomic butt drop into the atomic double-knee drop. However, it’s not nearly as entertaining.

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Evans Blue is getting down with MMA.

Evans Blue front man Dan Chandler has an MMA connection—the best kind—UFC ring girl Arianny Celeste. In 2007, 18 months before joining Evans Blue as their lead vocalist, the Missouri-based songwriter connected with Celeste by providing her with a few original songs to demo.

“I was writing a lot of different styles of music and sent Arianny a few songs to try out because she was working on becoming a pop artist,” says Chandler. “She recorded herself singing ‘For You’ and did an awesome job.”

As an avid fan of MMA, Chandler was familiar with Celeste’s work. The vocalist became hooked after watching The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, and now claims Georges St-Pierre and Clay Guida as his favorite fighters.

“It’s just a badass sport—I have so much respect for those guys,” he says. “The discipline and dedication—not to mention the hard work most of us will never experience— just screams passion. I can relate to the passion, just not the fighting part.”

Now, Chandler has to make time to catch the UFC pay-per-views and live events on free television because of his hectic tour schedule. He took over as front man for Evans Blue in February 2009, and the alternative hard rock collective dropped their self-titled third album four months later.

On April 17, 2012, three years removed from their last release, a fully recharged Evans Blue—also comprised of rhythm guitarist Parker Lauzon, lead guitarist Vlad Tanaskovic, and bassist Joe Pitter—will unveil their fourth studio effort Graveyard Of Empires through independent label Sounds+Sights. The powerful 12-track offering features riveting melodies, heartfelt lyricism, and Chandler’s
piercing vocals, including leadoff single “This Time It’s Different” and “Halo.”

This time around, the music is more personal than ever. “There is something special about an album that can make you feel as if it was written especially for you,” Chandler says. “It’s not necessarily a conscious effort to make that happen, but I believe genuine songs that speak truth will fill that void. The best music for me is the kind I can build a relationship with.”

Evans Blue will support Graveyard of Empires throughout 2012, and although Chandler hasn’t spoken to Celeste recently, he plans to link up with her in the future. “It’s been a while since I talked to her,” he says. “I know she’s been working with some producers and trying to get something going. We haven’t toured in California in a while. But when we do, I’ll invite her to a show.”

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A lot of bands tend to lock themselves inside the studio when they’re working on a new album and only leave to use the bathroom, grab a sandwich, or drink a beer. Buddy Nielsen, the vocalist of post-hardcore quintet Senses Fail, would exit Salad Days Studio in Baltimore, Maryland, while recording the group’s fourth album The Fire to practice jiu jitsu at the local neighborhood Gracie academy.

 

“I went to a Renzo affiliate and learned from a Rickson Gracie guy,” says the 26-year-old blue belt. “I try as much as Ican to go to different places when I’m on tour just to learn new stuff. It’s really cool to be able to walk into a foreign place and have something in common with other people. You just can’t do that with a lot of other sports.”

 

Nielsen got his first glimpse of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu back in 1993. He was 9 years old and pleaded with his mom to order the first Ultimate Fighting Championship event. After seeing Royce Gracie dominate bigger warriors in the Octagon, he searched venomously for a local school where he could learn the discipline. Unfortunately for the New Jersey native, there wasn’t a gym around that taught the submission art, and once MMA entered the dark ages, he no longer kept up with the sport.

 

Fast forward to 2005 when The Ultimate Fighter debuted on Spike TV. The vocalist was ho oked again and renewed his quest to find a BJJ gym. In 2007, Nielsen discovered Performance Jiu-Jitsu—a Gracie affiliated Academy in Fairlawn, New Jersey—and fell in love with the fighting style.

 

“I like everything about BJJ. I like it beyond the idea of self-defense and beyond the idea of it as a sport,” Nielsen says. “It has helped me as a per son deal with a lot of things in my life. I think it’s good for you as a person to know. You have to be so humble in jiu jitsu because there is always somebody better than you. Every time you think you’ve made an improvement, you still have so much to learn. I love it as a fighting style too. I want jiu jitsu fighters to win. I think it’s the most effective form of fighting. That’s why I hate people like Matt Hughes.”

 

Well, he doesn’t hate Matt Hughes. Nielsen just dislikes his attitude. “I think he likes saying that American wrestling is superior,” the singer says with a laugh. “I think he knows—everybody knows—you can’t fight MMA unless you know Gracie Jiu-Jitsu.”

 

Nielsen loves jiu jitsu so much, it’s easy to assume that he might actually be part Brazilian. He was admittedly impressed with Anderson Silva’s come-from-behind win over Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 and Fabricio Werdum’s quick submission over Fedor Emeliane nko at June’s Strikeforce card. He roots for just about any BJJ practitioner who enters the cage.

 

“It all comes back to jiu jitsu,” Nielsen gushes. “It’s not something you can just learn. You can’t pick it up like striking. It becomes engrained into your being. It’s essentially the best form of fighting.”

 

Aside from learning the art of submission, Nielsen has also tried his luck in the striking realm. The vocalist dabbled in Muay Thai at Kru Training in Bergenfield, New Jersey, back in 2007, but after six months of training there, he learned the hard way that this particular fighting discipline wasn’t for him.

 

“I went to a real legit Muay Thai place where you actually fight and they actually train you to fight—not like where you show up and do conditioning for a fucking hour. And if you wanna spar, you gotta prove you’re actually into it,” he recalls. “It wasn’t just a mixed martial arts or an ‘alacarte’ kinda place. It was a real Muay Thai gym, and honestly, I’m not a fighter. I don’t wanna get kicked in my fucking ribs and kicked in my fucking leg, and punched in the face.”

 

That isn’t the only pain Nielsen has experienced. Ever since Senses Fail dropped their third studio album Life Is Not A Waiting Room in 2008, the group has dealt with plenty of inner turmoil. Aside from personal and creative struggles, the New Jersey rockers encountered legal issues and, guitarist Heath Saraceno left the band. For a bleak moment, it appeared as if the band was on the verge of collapse.

 

Ultimately, Nielsen regrouped and now,Senses Fail (also comprised of original guitarist Garrett Zablocki, new guitarist Zack Roach, bassist Jason Black, and drummer Dan Trapp) are back with The Fire, their fourth studio offering, courtesy of Vagrant Records.The New Jersey quintet unleashed “Saint Anthony” and the title track on the Internet to further hype the LP.

 

While The Fire could be their best effort to date, this album signifies Senses Fail returning with a reignited passion. “It’s been a rough two years with the recession and everything within the music industry changing,” he says. “We had to trudge through the bullshit and the fire, come out on the other end, and you’re pretty much clear of everything that’s been holding you back. It’s a metaphorical image. You walk through the fire, and you actually come out on the other side with only the things you need—all the bullshit has burned away.”

 

Now with the flames behind them, Senses Fail can move forward again, and this time, if anyone gets in Nielsen’s way, he’s always got his BJJ to rely on.

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There are but a few major happenings in a man’s life. Falling in love. Getting married. The birth of your fi rst child. Your fi rst divorce. But the problem with those events is that they all normally happen before you turn 18. At least they did for me. Please tell me I’m not the only one. However, there is one major life-changing moment that you can still get amped for.

YOUR FIRST UFC EVENT

I remember my fi rst time. I was young. Inexperienced. There was sweat. Some blood. Some disappointment. And it was over way too fast. Damn … now that I think about it, that sort of sounds like the fi rst time I … never mind. In all honesty, it was a big deal. The lights, the music, the absolute insane atmosphere of the crowd. It is unparalleled by any other sporting event that I have ever been to (Editor’s note: The only other sporting event Mr. Loco has been to was the 1987 Scrabble World Championships). Luckily, with the UFC traveling to all sections of the country, and now the world, every fan reading this has the chance to catch a UFC live. No longer do you have to plan a trip to Vegas. Instead, you can be planning for Texas, or Ohio, or even the UK. But be prepared. The last thing you want is to look like a rookie going in there. They’ll sense it a mile away and eat you alive. Like your fi rst time at a poker table in Vegas. So I’ve compiled a list of some things to be prepared for. Trust me; I’m a veteran. I Wikipedia’d it, and I’ve been to 186 UFCs. Honest.

BEING THAT GUY

We all know the saying: Don’t be “THAT” guy. You can’t go to a concert and wear the T-shirt of the band you’re seeing. That’s a huge NO-NO. You have to wear a T-shirt of a band that is incredibly obscure, or one that is in the same genre. However, much like ’N Sync concerts or NASCAR races, it is not frowned upon at UFC events to wear the T-shirt of the person fi ghting that evening. Heck, it isn’t even bad form to wear the offi cial T-shirt for the event that night. How did this come to be? I have no idea. But look a few rows down, and you’ll see GSP, BJ Penn, and Randy Couture all sitting in front of you. Only thing is, they’ll be on the backs of three fans from Norfolk, Virginia. So don’t think you’re going to look weird wearing your ShomanArt portrait tee of Wanderlei. There’s already someone there with a shaved head and a Sharpie tattoo on the back of it. And he’s probably drunk.

The guy behind you

There’s always a person behind you. Even if your back is against the wall in the very last row, somehow, some way, there will be someone behind you. I was originally going to call this “The Lady behind you” due to numerous bad experiences at events with females behind me, but I don’t need more hate mail. I get enough from my family as it is. It never fails. Every event I go to, there’s someone in my ear, yelling as if the fi ghters can hear them. Forget their corner; Leslie from Nashville has the winning advice. ”BJ!!!!!!! COME ON, BJ!!!! CHOKE HIM! IN THE FACE! BeeeeeeeeeeeJaaaaaaaaaaaay!!!” Don’t get me wrong. Cheering is awesome. I love a loud arena … but doing that for 15 minutes straight? Yelling like that when BJ isn’t even on the card? That’s a little much, don’t you think? Unfortunately, there’s really nothing you can do about it that wouldn’t involve giant men in yellow jackets coming to “have a talk” with you outside … in the parking lot … where there are no security cameras. Again, not like I would know; I just heard some things. I know some people who know some people. How do you combat this? Numb your ears with alcohol. Problem solved.

YOU WON’T EVEN WATCH THE ACTION IN THE CAGE

Like I mentioned earlier, I’ve been to 247 UFCs. Honest. Seventy-fi ve percent of the time, you’re going to be looking at the big screens. I love a good ground battle. But the minute the fi ght goes down, everyone’s heads go up. The UFC has roughly 19 cameramen standing around the cage, which really hinders your view. All you’re going to see is a guy’s back and the sponsor across his rear. Don’t be alarmed when you see everyone angle their head and turn quickly; there isn’t a fi ght in the stands. Vinnie Magalhaes just pulled guard. And now he’s fl exing his abs. WTF?

The baba o’reilly highlight clip

If you’re an Internet nerd, much like me, chances are you’ve heard of this clip. It’s played before the UFC goes live for the PPV audience. It isn’t on YouTube. Trust me, I’ve searched. I’ve already found Titanic 2 on YouTube. No dice on this one. Get there on time, that’s all I’m saying. Thanks to CSI and the UFC, The Who have come back in a big way. I bet Keith Moon is really psyched … oh wait (Google him, kids … damn, I feel old). And even on the off chance that by the time this goes to print it IS on YouTube, it still isn’t the same as seeing it live. I’ve seen it 312 times at various UFCs, and it never disappoints. Honest. It’s the same feeling I get the fi rst time a girl takes her top off (In a movie, not in person. *sobs*).

BRUCE BUFFER’S WHIPLASH TURN

Bruce Buffer is an icon to me, but not just because of his introductions. Take nothing away from it; he’s awesome at what he does. Instead, he’s an icon because at every event I go to, there are hot chicks following him like he has diamonds in his pocket, a fresh Will and Testament in his hand, and a heart problem. However, I can take NOTHING away from his turn. Watch as he introduces the fi ghters. Sometimes it isn’t 100% visible on television. You’d swear that he was wearing those Heely shoes with wheels on them. He spins like he has a power drill in his pants (Take that however you want to take it, sickos … that’s probably why the chicks love him. *rimshot*). We marvel at it, and can’t believe he hasn’t ended up in a hospital bed yet because of it. I now do this same turn every morning in the shower, when grabbing the shampoo. I have broken 14 bones.

So there you have it … my little guide to your fi rst live UFC event. I sort of forgot to mention the $9 beers, the cramped seats, the fact that it will take you 30 minutes to get out of the arena, or the long bathroom lines. But I promise you, you won’t remember any of those things. The only reason why I remember them is because I’ve been to 452 of these things. Honest.

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It’s been nearly ten months since my MMA fi ght quest began. And in that time, I’ve come to learn quite a bit, both about this incredible sport and myself. But of all the newfound knowledge I’ve amassed, the one factoid that bears the most weight is simply this: I am absolutely, positively, 100% certain that I am NOT cage fi ghter material.

Does that mean I’m abandoning my plans to climb into the Octagon to fi ght? Hell freakin’ no! Once I agreed to take on this challenge, that was it – the radar was locked on and there is no self-destruct button. And please understand, I’m in this to win it, not simply to make an appearance, take my ass-kicking with a smile, and then slink back to my desk to write this series’ fi nal installment just as soon as I’ve been released from the hospital. Granted, I have no illusions about what the likely outcome will be – c’mon people, I’m not a complete idiot – but I’m also not going into this adventure with a defeatist attitude. Confi dence plays a huge role in any sport or competition, especially fi ghting, and I am wholeheartedly confi dent in my skills and abilities. At the very least, I’ve got a puncher’s chance. Now, will that translate into a victory inside the cage? That remains to be seen. But my mindset is that I will not only survive the encounter, I will obliterate whoever or whatever is standing across from me!

However, positive mental attitude and bravado aside, I am reasonably intelligent enough to understand and appreciate my limitations and overall place in this sport. I’m a fan, fi rst and foremost. And my relationship with this publication has given me an opportunity to delve into the MMA world to glean a perspective a scant few people will ever get the chance to explore. Because of that opportunity, I am unfl inchingly clear of my own pecking order within the sport’s hierarchy. So I say again, I am defi nitely not a fi ghter.

First, there’s the “whatever happens, happens” side of the equation. Simply put, I don’t enjoy hurting people. I’m not suggesting others in the sport take pleasure in the process of beating the living shit out of their fellow man but, with any contact sport, especially pugilism, participants must be fully accepting of the outcome. When two people climb into a ring or cage to exchange blows, there is a very real possibility that one of them – if not both – will become seriously injured. Personally, I have no desire to put myself in that position on a routine basis. Were one of my strikes to lead to a degraded quality of existence for another person, even someone I didn’t really know or care about, that occurrence would haunt me for the rest of my days. That professional fi ghters can permanently shelve such a moral dilemma, or at least look past it long enough to concentrate on their task at hand, is a rare trait, one that I most certainly do not possess.

On the fl ipside of the injury equation, I don’t want to get hurt, either – a legit possibility that will defi nitely be in my mind when I eventually climb into the cage. While I have done some truly crazy things in the past in the pursuit of stories – out-of-cage diving with great white sharks, base-jumping, motorcycle ice-racing, purposeful incarceration in a Mexican prison, among others – I don’t have a death wish and, as I’ve gotten older and hopefully wiser, I’ve elected to shy away from many of the “out there” storylines I covered in my youth. Now, whenever an editor calls with a, “Have I got a gig for you!” pitch, I look before I leap.

And then there’s the aggression factor. Anyone who really knows me is fully cognizant that I am a true Atype to the core. Not sure if it’s my New York roots, my screwed-up genetics, or my desire to accomplish all the goals I set for myself early on. But forced aggression in the fi ght game is a horse of another color. Sure, if someone were to threaten my family, or attempt to infl ict bodily harm on an innocent person or animal in my presence, I would defi nitely respond accordingly. Or if I was forced to defend myself and physical confl ict was the only viable solution, no problemo. Win or lose, I’m not about to back down from any of the aforementioned situations. But that doesn’t mean I’d like it. After all, I don’t go out looking for confrontations. However, I understand the vagaries of life and I’m well aware that we don’t live in a protective bubble. Shit happens and sometimes you need to fi ght fi re with fi re, become a monster to stop a monster, that sort of thing. But therein lies the difference. Repeatedly climbing into a ring or a cage to do battle with a welltrained adversary requires a certain amount of intestinal fortitude. To do it once, for a story, just to see how I’ll react to the experience is one thing. To do it regularly, to earn a living, no friggin’ way! The same can be said for the brave men and women of our Armed Forces who put on their uniforms day after day after day to provide the blanket of freedom we cherish yet so often take for granted. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate their efforts and their sacrifi ces. Words alone don’t do it justice. I know I sure as hell couldn’t do it.

Dedication is next – physical and mental. At age 38, my body doesn’t respond the way it used to. Funny, I’m actually in the best shape of my life now – even better than when I was in high school or college – yet I’m still far, far away from being in the same physicality stratosphere as a professional athlete. The toll continuous MMA training takes on the body is like an exacta box of soft-core and hard-core torture with a willing victim. Heck, I got injured (sprained MCL, torn meniscus) during a light sparring session – wussy, patty cake exchanges compared to some of the all-out combat I’ve witnessed in the gym. And therein lies another major issue for me: my body simply isn’t accustomed to a fi ghter’s regimen.

According to striking expert extraordinaire Vince Perez- Mazzola, just to be profi cient in throwing a punch (or a kick, or any specifi c physical movement for that matter) requires somewhere in the realm of 3,000 to 10,000 perfect repetitions. Sounds ridiculous, I know, and I questioned that logic, but for neurological programming (oftentimes referred to as muscle memory) to take place, the physiological evidence supports the statement. And let me tell you, I haven’t even thrown a fraction of that number of punches or kicks. Were it about banging out articles on my laptop, I’d be home free; by now my fi ngers have got a mind of their own. But for mounting a proper pugilistic attack, I’m way behind the curve. And that training applies not only to delivering the blow properly but also to conditioning the body of the puncher/ kicker to handle the impacts. Why do you think drunken bar brawlers often break their hands or wrists? Trust me, it ain’t because the recipient of their animosity had a granite jaw!

But I’m getting off course a bit. Dedication in the gym takes on new meaning when you’re training for a fi ght. Pounding out reps on the bench press or muscling through “curls for the girls” is not usually part of the standard exercise regime for MMA fi ghters. Kettle bells, raw strength drills, fl exibility training, offensive and defensive scenario drills – fi ghters need workouts that will help them be badasses, not simply look like them. And then there’s the whole nutrition and sustenance side of training. Bottom line, I love to eat – what I want, when I want. Granted, I normally eat pretty healthy. I watch my fat and carbohydrate intake. I’m defi nitely not a Twinkies-andpork- rinds kind of guy. But I also like to splurge on an occasional piece of coconut cream pie or Caribbean rum cake or even a nice big bowl of fettuccine
alfredo. Fighters don’t have that luxury. Give me pina coladas, mango daiquiris, and Guinness over sport-specifi c replenishing drinks any day of the week. Hell, you should’ve seen the looks I got in the gym when I was drinking light beer from a pitcher between my squat sets. I didn’t realize that was inappropriate behavior!

I could ramble on forever, citing reasons why I’m not of the same ilk as those who play for pay in the cage. After all, that was the whole purpose of this series of articles. I wanted to experience what they experience and report my fi ndings honestly and accurately. Anything less would be a total disservice – to you and ultimately to me. I’d like to believe I’ve done that; the innumerable e-mails I’ve received telling me I’m out-of-my-gourd crazy for trying this seems to indicate that, if nothing else, I’m on the right track. And as my confrontation deadline looms large, I am both nervous and excited. Only time will tell how I will respond when the cage door slams shut, leaving me mano y mano with a trained individual intent on pounding me into oblivion or choking me into the Land of Nod. As the prominent saying inside The Ultimate Fighter training center declares, it will be, “As real as it gets.”

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