Names in the Game from the Magazine

Names in the Game from the Magazine

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Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fighters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.

Carlos Diego Ferreira
Record: 7-0
Key Victory: Carlo Prater
Weight Class: 155 lbs.
Age: 28
Country: United States
Twitter: @diegobjjtx

In just two short years, Carlos Diego Ferreira has become one of the top lightweight prospects in Texas. Most recently, Ferreira headlined Legacy FC 20 and outshined UFC veteran Carlo Prater en route to a unanimous-decision victory in the evening’s main event.

“I did what I was supposed to do,” says Ferreira. “I wanted to exchange a little bit and try out my stand-up, and I wanted to see if I had improved my game or if I needed to go to the ground. I did good with all of my skills, and I really liked my performance this time.”

Heading into his first major headlining spot on live television could have intimidated a fighter with just six career bouts, but not so for Ferreira.

“I really don’t think about it,” he says. “When I get inside the cage, I really don’t think about anything. I like to turn off everything and concentrate on the fight. I was excited to be on TV, but it wasn’t really any different than my previous fights.”

While his mindset might not have been different, Ferreira says that getting a chance to be part of Legacy has helped him expand greatly from his home base in southern Texas.

“I have a lot of fans here in the valley, but when I go to Corpus Christi, only a few guys I know go, but being on TV helps a lot with getting new fans,” he says. “It helps get me exposure, and I really like to be on TV and show my work.”

Even with enhanced exposure and a win over a well-known opponent, Ferreira refuses to let things go to his head. He knows he still has a lot of work to do to reach his goal.

“It feels pretty good, and I know Carlo is a really awesome fighter, but I know I have a lot more people I need to fight and beat,” says Ferreira. “I don’t think I’m the best. Right now, I don’t have anything planned. I have two more fights with Legacy, so when it comes time to fight again in Legacy, I’ll be ready. I really want to fight the best, and I know I have to fight better guys to get to the big show. I know I will get there one day.”

Rick Rainey
Record: 7-1
Key Victories: Reggie Pena, Joseph Corneroli
Weight Class: 170 lbs.
Age: 30
Country: United States
Nickname: The Sniper
Twitter: @RickyRaineyMMA

Ricky “The Sniper” Rainey is a fighter’s fighter and a promoter’s dream. He comes to fight—every time—and nothing keeps him out of the cage when he commits to a fight. His fight against Joseph Corneroli at XFC 22 in February was a perfect example. Rainey admittedly did not have the best performance, but it was for a good reason.

“I feel like I could have done better, but he was ready for battle,” says Rainey. “I definitely respect him for taking the fight and performing as well as he did. I had a fractured hand going into the fight, so I wasn’t at 100 percent, but I got the unanimous decision, so I was happy about it in the end.”

When asked why he would take a fight with such an injury, Rainey gave an old-school answer.

“I didn’t want to let the XFC down. I want to perform whenever they want me to perform. I’d already signed the contract, so I didn’t want to back out. You’re always going to have injuries going into a fight, so I just made sure I was prepared for it.”

Rainey followed up his win at XFC 22 with another unanimous-decision victory at Fight Lab 31, and then he took out Reggie Pena via TKO at XFC 24, making him one of the top contenders for the promotion’s welterweight championship.

“What I’m going to try to do is keep the ball rolling,” he says. “I know I want to keep going forward, keep winning, and be successful without any injuries. Whatever comes my way, I’ll gladly take it.”

Steve Carl
Record: 20-3
Key Victories: Tyson Steele, Tyler Stinson, Brett Cooper
Weight Class: 170 lbs.
Age: 28
Country: United States
Twitter: @Steve_Carl

After losing his second fight in three bouts and being released from Bellator, welterweight Steve Carl knew he had to make some changes if he was going to get back on track. Specifically, Carl felt his mindset needed to change if he was going to return to being a successful fighter.

“After the fight with Douglas [Lima], I took a step back and figured if I’m going to do this, I need to get in there and just let myself do it,” says Carl. “I was on a year break before I fought Douglas, and once I got in the cage, I was nervous, I was hesitant, and I thought I was going to lose that fight going into it—and I fought that way. Going forward, I knew if I was going to continue in this sport, I needed to just jump in there head-first and fight. That’s what I’ve been doing, and things have been going well.”

Having gotten his head back into the game, Carl (20-3) has won six fights in a row, including his first two bouts for the burgeoning World Series of Fighting promotion.

“I like the fact that the WSOF is bringing in known guys, because that gives me an opportunity to compete. If I fight them and beat them, that is a great opportunity to jump up in the fans’ minds.”

Carl is coming off a victory over Tyson Steele at World Series of Fighting 3 in June. That victory could propel him to contender status for the promotion’s first welterweight championship. Carl could soon be lined up to fight either UFC veteran Jon Fitch to earn his way into the title bout, or perhaps even step immediately into a battle for the belt against Josh Burkman.

Regardless of whether or not a title shot is the next stop for Carl, the victory over Steele, one of the promotion’s top rising stars, put him in the spotlight and on everyone’s radar.

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It’s the day before UFC 91 in Las Vegas, and you can’t set foot in the MGM Grand without feeling the energy of an approaching fight night. It reaches out and touches you, like static electricity. A little zap on the surface of your skin. Even the regular tourists who are here by accident feel it. They don’t know who these cauliflower-eared men in the lobby are, all decked out in T-shirts covered with sponsor logos, fist up and posing for pictures with giddy young twenty-somethings. They know only that these men have got to be famous, and as tourists they must obey the laws of fame. They must stand and gawk, even if they aren’t sure who they’re gawking at.

This is where Demian Maia comes in. Or rather, this is where he goes by, almost completely unnoticed. The crowd that has gathered around Junie Browning – a familiar face from reality television, they’d recognize that grenade tattoo anywhere – doesn’t see the Brazilian as he strolls by. The undefeated Jiu-Jitsu phenom who just might be the heir to the UFC’s middleweight throne is not even a blip on their radar. Not yet, anyway. By the end of Saturday night, it could well be a different story.

In many ways, the 31-year-old Maia — the decorated grappler who hardly needs to throw a punch to win a fight — seems like a fighter from a different era. The guy has so many Jiu- Jitsu titles – Abu Dhabi champion, World Cup champion, Pan American champion, etc – that listing them all seems tedious since it only confirms what anyone who has seen one of his few fights in the UFC already knows: the guy is a black hole on the ground who swallows up anyone unlucky enough to get close.

His opponents all know what he wants to do, where he wants the fight to go. In theory at least, game-planning for him should be simple. It begins and ends with one rule, and that rule is to stay on your feet at all costs. Turn the fight into a kickboxing match. So far, no one has been able to do it. Nate Quarry is the next man to try. According to conventional wisdom, he has a decent shot. He has never been submitted in his pro career. This fact seems mildly impressive, though not quite daunting, to Maia,

“I’ve seen a few of his fights on tape. He’s good,” Maia admitted a week before the fight, his voice almost opiate-calm after a hard training session with Wanderlei Silva. “He never quits. He has good stand-up and a strong takedown defense.”

Strong enough to stay on his feet? To force Maia into the kind of stand-up striking battle he’s managed to avoid for the bulk of his 3-year MMA career?

“We’ll see,” he says and chuckles. “Other people have tried that already.”

The fact that no one has succeeded isn’t something he feels the need to point out, just like he doesn’t need to tell you what his strategy is for this next fight. It’s obvious to anyone who’s glanced at his resume. But knowing what’s coming and being able to prevent it are two different things.

Maia’s love affair with fighting began early. The son of a musician who played in popular São Paulo nightclubs, his first inclinations were toward combat. He was 4 years old when he first began studying Judo. After that came Kung Fu and Karate, both of which aided him well growing up in Brazil, where fighting was practically a part of the school curriculum.

“When I was a kid, maybe 12 years old, I discovered that I really liked to fight,” he says. “I wasn’t a mean kid, but when a fight started I liked it. I wanted to hurt the other guy. Martial arts helped me learn some self-control. It helped with my anger and made me focused.”

Unlike many Brazilian youths, Maia was late in discovering Jiu-Jitsu. But at age 19, while working toward a journalism degree in college, he discovered his passion for the sport in a local academy. Almost immediately he was training at every available moment, sometimes three times per day. It was this drive and dedication, he says, that accelerated his development.

“I don’t think I had more talent than the other guys. Maybe slightly more than average. But I think it was my mind that helped me become better. I saw that I was willing to do more than some other guys were. That’s what made the difference.”

Maia’s obsessive training led to a black belt in less than 5 years, an uncommonly rapid advance through the ranks. Though he’d go on to dazzle the Jiu-Jitsu world with victories in the absolute division of the World Cup in 2002 and 2003, and later an Abu Dhabi championship in 2007, it didn’t prepare him for the unique challenge of becoming a professional MMA fighter.

“The hardest thing is that you must always be prepared for the next fight. Al- ways,” he says. “You can’t ever afford not to be. In Jiu-Jitsu, if you lose a tournament you move on to the next one. It’s no big deal. In MMA, every fight is your most important fight. I think a lot of guys go to MMA from Jiu-Jitsu just for the money. I think this is why many of them are not successful. But this is too hard a life to do only for money. You have to love it.”

And Maia does. Even though it takes him away from his family, from his wife, to far-off places like Finland, Canada, and the United States. The travel is part of the allure. It’s the adventurous life he’s always wanted — going to new places, meeting new people, and getting paid to kick the asses of said people. It has worked out well so far.

One thing Jiu-Jitsu competition has taught him is how to deal with pressure. The nerves before a fight are almost commonplace now, so when they accompany his last-minute locker room preparations for the bout against Quarry, they feel nothing if not normal. The crowd response is somewhat tepid during his walk to the Octagon. Quarry follows a few moments later to a louder ovation, looking every bit the chiseled athlete Maia’s been preparing for. What he doesn’t know is that the walkouts and introductions will take longer than the fight itself.

Maia wastes no time putting his game plan into action, shooting for a double-leg takedown and then pulling a half-guard, which he uses to trip Quarry once the American tries to pull away. Just that quickly they are already in his world. Quarry’s attempt at staying on his feet has lasted just 30 seconds. A few more ticks of the clock and Maia is in full mount. Then he takes Quarry’s back. The rear naked choke follows like some unavoidable natural progression, the way one moment leads to the next.

It almost seems like a letdown. So much training, travel, and preparation, all for less than 3 minutes of action.

After the fight he mentions Michael Bisping as a potential future opponent, an idea the UFC brass seem amenable to. In the postfight press conference Dana White admits to being very impressed with Maia’s win, saying he and matchmaker Joe Silva talked about how the Brazilian might factor into the “moves” they have planned for the middleweight division.

Does that mean Maia could end up as a coach (and a reality television star in his own right) opposite Bisping on the next Ultimate Fighter, a reporter asks.

“Could be,” White says.

The night is not without one minor letdown, however. For the first time in four UFC fights, Maia does not take home the Submission of the Night award. He shrugs it off. He got a little something extra for his trouble anyway, he hints later. Apparently, there are certain benefits to running through a UFC veteran as if your car was doubleparked outside the arena.

But beyond the extra cash for his wallet, Maia has earned himself a brief rest and a trip home. As much as he likes to travel, it’s always sweet to return to his wife a winner.

“I love this. Truly, I
do,” he says. “It’s hard, the training is intense, and sometimes it’s very difficult, mentally and physically. But it’s a dream job for me.”

At the rate he’s going, it’s hard to imagine the dream coming to an end anytime soon.

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It’s every sports franchise worst nightmare—dealing with the gut-wrenching news that their All-Star player has been injured and is out for the season. Suddenly, the team’s championship dreams have all but disappeared and their die-hard fans are flooding suicide hotlines for support.

The only thing that could make this situation worse is if the savior of the organization was hurt while snowboarding at a premier mountain resort or racing his brand new Harley Davidson. Just ask the Chicago Bulls or Cleveland Browns, who lost their stud players Jay Williams and Kellen Winslow Jr. following motorcycle accidents.

No sport, including MMA, has been immune to players suffering injures off the field, or in the case of mixed martial arts, outside the gym or cage. When a fighter goes down, it can affect an entire event.

In an effort to prevent these misfortunes from taking place, the UFC has followed the lead of other major professional sporting leagues like the NFL, NBA, and MLB by creating a “dangerous activities” clause to a fighter’s bout agreement. Once the fight is made official and the athlete has signed the agreement, they are now contractually held to not participate in activities like snowboarding or water skiing. If they have not officially signed to fight, they’re free to participate in any hobbies they want to without repercussions.

“We have a code of conduct, and part of the code is the ‘dangerous activities’ clause,” says Marc Ratner, the UFC’s vice president of regulatory affairs. “We don’t want these fighters racing motorcycles, climbing mountains, doing rodeos…or anything else where they can get hurt. We’ve studied all the other sports when it comes to good conduct and moral clauses, and this one is in almost every other sport, so it was time for us to look into it.”

UFC president Dana White has been an advocate of the policy from day one. “We handle it situation by situation,” White says. “I get it, these are young, aggressive guys, but I would prefer MMA to be the only dangerous activity they do, but I can’t police everybody.”

Even the superstars are not exempt.

“If I hear Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre are doing something nutty,” White says, “I’m going to put in a phone call and say, ‘Come on, Georges.’”

After main events and entire cards were blown up or lost entirely in 2012, it makes sense that the UFC is trying to discourage their athletes from taking risks outside of the sport. After all, MMA is already hazardous enough. Although, it seems a bit ironic that men who fight in a cage for a living and are awarded bonuses for knocking out their opponents in emphatic fashion are prohibited from horseback riding or pick-up basketball games.

But when UFC Bantamweight Champion Jose Aldo was scratched from his UFC 153 title fight due to the serious injuries he suffered from crashing his motorcycle, it proved the exact point the UFC was making.

Extreme In & Out

UFC lightweight Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone could be the poster boy for the UFC’s new policy. Known for his love of extreme sports, including wakeboarding, rock climbing, and bull riding, he was one of the first fighters to voice his displeasure with the new restrictions added to UFC contracts. image descHowever, the policy didn’t really deter him, as a video surfaced of him performing crazy wakeboard stunts. He also Tweeted pictures of his rock climbing adventures.

Then, like a devastating right hook to the head, a 40-foot fall woke him up.

“I was showing Leonard Garcia what would happen if you slipped, and as I did, I actually fell,” Cerrone says. “I didn’t set the gear up correctly, and then pop, pop, pop, pop. Four of my five anchors ripped out, and by that time I had so much slack in the rope that I basically bounced of a rock that flung me out, and I smashed into the ground.”

What would have happened if that last hook didn’t hold? “I would have been hurt pretty bad,” he says, in the understatement of the year.

News of his fall traveled quickly.

“We heard about a fighter who fell while rock climbing,” says Ratner. “That’s the exact stuff we don’t want our fighters doing. We don’t want them jeopardizing their careers for fun.”

Social media alerted Dana White to Cerrone’s accident.

“That’s pretty much what happened with Cerrone,” says White. “I saw something about him rock climbing on Twitter and hit him up and said, ‘Come on. Are you crazy, kid?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ laughing and joking about it. Then he had the rock climbing incident, and he hit me back and said, ‘You’re right, I’m wrong. I’m done.’”

“I told Dana, no more of that BS while I’m in training camp,” says Cerrone. “I realized I have to limit how hard I go with my activities.”

While the UFC can’t follow their fighters 24/7 and watch their every move, they have attempted to educate their athletes on the risks associated with participating in dangerous activities.

And not all sports are considered “dangerous.”

UFC Lightweight Champion Benson Henderson routinely takes part in jiu-jitsu tournaments, and the UFC doesn’t seem to mind.
“The UFC has never given me any problems about participating in jiu-jitsu tournaments,” says Henderson. “I told them during my contract negotiations that I would be doing jiu-jitsu tournaments and asked if that was cool. They said as long as it’s not the day before the fight, you’re good to go.”

However, other activities like rock climbing, horseback riding, and motorcycle racing will result in a meeting with the big boss.

“If we hear about a fighter doing something crazy, we will bring them in to talk with Dana to see if a suspension is necessary,” says Ratner. “I believe he would give them a warning, but if a fighter continues to do dangerous activities, it would be cause for termination. It’s just that simple—but a talk with Dana is usually all it takes.”

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Amir Sadollah isn’t phased when people slip into an unconscious state or become dangerously close to getting their arms ripped out of the socket. It’s part of his job to maintain composure. Also, it was the 27-year-old who knocked out rivals and submitted the toughest competition Zuffa was able to round up for The Ultimate Fighter: Team Rampage vs. Team Forrest. Composure still maintained.

Before the rising middleweight entered The Ultimate Fighter house, he worked as a surgical technician at VCU Health Systems in Richmond, Virginia. This is where he developed his mental toughness. The gig required Sadollah to regularly be in the operating room. One of the fi rst times he was present, he was given a souvenir that would irk him for months. Composure lost.

“I don’t know if this is a tradition, but it seems like the surgeons do this to everybody who is new to this job. When they’re doing amputation, the new person gets passed the freaking leg,” he says. “I remember they cut off a dude’s leg, they handed it to me and I kinda got a little lightheaded. It’s like, ‘Oh dude, there is this guy’s leg in my hand. It used to be attached to him, and now, it’s not.’ I remember that vividly.” Sadollah didn’t keep the leg.

In any event, working alongside professional surgeons and maintaining composure under high stress situations has transferred to his fi ghting career. There were many times when Sadollah was busted open and looked to be in trouble during The Ultimate Fighter, but he kept his game face on and became the only cast member to fi nish off every opponent tossed in his way. But that’s also because he had passion. To be honest, there isn’t much of anything else he is passionate about.

Throughout his childhood, Amir Sadollah never really committed to anything. The Richmond transplant (by way of Brooklyn, New York) was intelligent, but considered himself the “smart kid who didn’t care to be smart.” Though he played football, soccer, and wrestling during his early teenage years, he quit before attending J. R. Tucker High School, because he was “more focused on trying to be cool and hang out with chicks.”

He graduated high school in 1999 and enrolled in J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, but not by choice. “My parents were giving me the evil eye, pretty much telling me to grow up. So I mostly went there to keep my parents quiet,” Sadollah admits. “I was taking courses in liberal arts, which is the biggest ‘I don’t know what to do degree’ there is, so I just took courses here and there. There was no real direction with it. I was doing whatever. I defi nitely hadn’t found what I wanted to do and I was in a state of limbo.”

Although Sadollah didn’t have any direction, his stepmother, a respected doctor, helped him get on track. She recommended him for a job delivering boxes to hospitals. Just like he did in school, the “smart kid” would goof off with his friends while on the clock. But making those deliveries led him to the fi rst thing he was truly passionate about: surgical technology. “A couple of friends and I were sometimes in the OR and were fascinated by the surgery. One of the doctors allowed us to come in and watch the surgery. I remember just being blown away,” Sadollah remembers. “I heard about the surgical technology program cause I used to talk to a ton of people in the operating room. We both agreed it was probably better carrying boxes all day and thought it would be cool to be in surgery.”

In 2002, he earned his surgical technology degree, and began assisting surgeons in the operating room. Over time, he stopped getting lightheaded from holding an amputated leg.

While Amir Sadollah didn’t show any strong interest in school or contact sports when he was an adolescent, he was always attracted to the idea of being a warrior. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s role in Bloodsport ignited that fi ghting spirit.

But Richmond didn’t have any places that taught kickboxing – at least that’s what the middleweight juggernaut thought. One day when Sadollah was bench pressing at a local gym, he saw a friend from school who told him about a place called Prodigy (a gym later renamed Combat Sports Center) where Muay Thai was being taught. Sadollah went the next day and never looked back.

He wasn’t able to dive into it, however. “I just started my surgical job, so I wasn’t able to dedicate a lot of time to it. I wasn’t learning at an astounding rate. I just kinda did it to do it,” he recalls. “I enjoyed it and liked working out, and especially the fi rst couple of months, I never actually thought I was going to fi ght and never put pressure on myself to do it. All I knew was for two hours a day, I went there and came out happy.”

Months after taking Muay Thai classes, Sadollah decided to add grappling to his arsenal. That’s when everything clicked. “About a year in, I realized I really wanted to fi ght and I realized if I wanted to do that, I better know as much about everything as possible,” he explains. “I started feeling more comfortable with my stand-up and grappling, and I actually did my fi rst competition. It was grappling competition and I lost my fi rst match, but it was okay. Even though I lost, I lost on points. I had no idea what I was doing, but I just realized how awesome it was and how much I liked competing, and I wanted to continue to get as good as I could.”

Sadollah kept entering grappling and Muay Thai competitions, and even compiled a 5-0 amateur record. The middleweight had plans of going pro in the summer of 2007, but he was sidelined with a shoulder injury. “It didn’t turn out to be anything too major, but due to my surgical background, I knew not to push it and to get diagnosed fi rst,” he says. “It took a long time getting bounced around to different specialists and getting MRIs and stuff, and of course doctors are real conservative. They’ll scare the crap out of you. They were like, ‘You can take three months off, or you can take three years off when you completely rip something.’ That summer was a dark time for me. I didn’t have any answers.”

Although Sadollah was feeling down, he maintained his composure. Once he healed, he was determined to test himself against professional fi ghters, and headed to the IFL tryouts in October 2007. He partook in a grappling match, a kickboxing match, and an exhibition MMA fi ght, and did well enough to be part of the draft, which according to Sadollah meant, “Nothing other than your name is in a pool of guys they might use.” Nevertheless, it was a confi dence booster and even Pat Miletich gave him props via email.

Shortly thereafter, the fi ghter traveled to New Jersey to audition for The Ultimate Fighter. After demonstrating his grappling and striking skills, he earned an interview with the producers. His laid-back attitude and keen sense of humor must have delighted them, because he was invited to Las Vegas in December for another round of interviews.

Weeks later, Sadollah was in the operating room while his cell phone went off. When the middleweight checked his voicemail, he learned he was cast for the reality show. “I actually still save that message on the phone,” he says. “It was crazy. I listened to the message in the back hall at work and I wanted to yell, but I couldn’t because I was in the middle of surgery in the operating room.”

Soon, Sadollah was on the plane, weighing 190 pounds – just like all the other contestants. When he arrived at the UFC Training Center with seven other cast members, he saw sixteen other men in the room. He fi gured they were cameramen who happened to be big and in shape. But once all
thirty-two folks were in the room, the UFC President burst everyone’s bubble; they would have cut weight to 185 pounds within 24 hours, and fi ght their way on the show within 48 hours.

Fortunately, the 27-year-old had made friends with Dante Rivera and Matthew Riddle during their fi nal interviews in Vegas weeks prior, so they cut weight together. 48 hours later, Sadollah fought UFC veteran Steve Byrnes. Despite not having any professional bouts, he submitted him and secured his slot in the house.

Over the next several weeks, he trained closely under the tutelage of current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Forrest Griffi n, though he was constantly pegged as the underdog. But to most people’s surprise, Sadollah defi ed the odds. He knocked out former IFL veteran Gerald Harris, submitted tough guy Matt Brown with a triangle choke in the quarterfi nals, and tapped out odds-on-favorite C.B. Dollaway in the semifi nals with a slick armbar.

Pretty impressive for the so-called underdog. “I felt like I wasn’t outclassed, but I wasn’t a clear favorite,” he says. “I was just real with myself. I see a lot guys do that and I think they’re too into themselves. You gotta try to fi nd that balance between confi dence and concept of performing, and being realistic about things without being negative.”

Originally, he was slated to clash with his teammate Jesse Taylor at The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale for the six-fi gure contract, but plans changed. A few nights after winning his semifi nal match against Tim Cretdeur, Taylor partied a little too hard and went on a drunken rampage that included terrorizing women and kicking out a limousine window. Taylor was bounced from the competition. In a last minute replacement bout, Dollaway defeated Credeur to gain a rematch with Sadollah at the fi nale.

Though he defeated Dollaway once before, he didn’t mind fi ghting him again. “The Jesse situation was something none of us could’ve helped, or after the fact anyway, but I wasn’t angry they brought C.B. and Tim to fi ght for that right. They just didn’t give it to anyone. C.B. fought another fi ght right after he got back home and started training again. He earned it, so I wasn’t mad at all,” Sadollah explains. “Stylistically, it was a hard fi ght for me, and I didn’t wanna win that show and not have earned it.”

The Richmond native earned it when caught Dollaway with an armbar yet again. All of his work is a testament to his character, considering the stiff competition he was up against. “I felt like I had a really hard path – probably the hardest path – and the second time I beat C.B.,” he says, “I thought, maybe I am the ultimate fi ghter.”

Sadollah, without a doubt, is the ultimate fi ghter. On July 19, Taylor was invited back into the UFC and took on Dollaway in a campaign to declare that he should have won the reality show. But Taylor can’t make that case anymore; Dollaway submitted him with a Peruvian necktie in the fi rst round.

Though Sadollah is in the midst of relocating to Las Vegas to train with other top caliber athletes at Xtreme Couture, he is motivated every day by the surgeons at VCU Health Systems back home in Richmond.

“I actually credit it with giving me the outlook I have on training and fi ghting,” the middleweight admits. “I was around surgeons and nurses all day, and the personality traits I really admired in them was their ability to handle stress and high-pressure situations. They literally handled life and death situations on an everyday basis. Just watching people in that fi eld and looking death straight in the face… they don’t get beat. They just respond, and I really admired that. And the hard working and dedicated mentality of it all…the kinda taking responsibility for your own actions and doing the best you can. I try to put that in my outlook on being a fi ghter.” It’s all about maintaining composure.

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UFC middleweight Mark Munoz was tricked into MMA by a “Kid”…was heel-hooked by a “Gangster” while wrestling in college…and found himself slamming “The Natural” in the most unnatural way.

In late July, just a couple of weeks after he came back from a year-long dark period to beat Tim Boetsch at UFC 162, Mark Munoz is in his element coaching wrestling. He has two camps occurring simultaneously at his base in Southern California—one a 10-day general camp, the other a five-day advanced technique course. It’s so busy that he has to keep a strict schedule on a dry-erase board to help marshal through his long days…days that begin at 6 a.m. and end 17 hours later at 11 p.m. It’s so busy he has to pencil in shower times.

The thing is, Munoz loves it like this because his ability to multitask is on par with his ability to annihilate people via ground-and-pound. The more punishing, the better.

In fact, in the midst of what sounds like utter chaos—in which he excuses himself twice, once to introduce his special guest wrestling coach, Joe Heskett, who now coaches at Army, and once to help somebody having an asthma attack—Munoz can tell a story about how he was dragged kicking and screaming into MMA by a pesky assistant coach he worked with at UC Davis back in the day.

Think it was some alpha-urge to conquer the fiercest combatants in the cage that lured Munoz into four-ounce gloves? Nope, it was none other than Urijah Faber. It was the Spicoli-like “California Kid” who created the barrel-crashing monstrosity that is known as “The Filipino Wrecking Machine.”

“Urijah came up to me and said, ‘You should learn how to fight, you’d be really good,’” Munoz says. “I said, ‘No man, I’m good—I’m not going to fight.’ But you know how he talks, he’s like, ‘Bro, come on, bro. Give it a try. Come on, bro.’”

At the time, Munoz was coaching wrestling and working on his master’s degree. He already had a wife and four children and was closing in on 30 years old. He was feeling a little long in the tooth to be contemplating a new career path. But as he was cornering Faber early years ago, he admitted there was a “void” left after coming up short of making the Olympic team. As a lifelong competitor and standout wrestler from his days at Oklahoma State, Munoz had a readily transferrable base to the mixed martial arts. The writing was on the wall. Faber, knowing this better than Munoz, started getting in his ear.

“Actually, you know what? Urijah tricked me into getting into it,” Munoz says. “He brought in Randy Couture, Brandon Vera, Rampage Jackson, Frank Trigg, and a bunch of other guys. And he asked if it would be cool if I came in and taught some wrestling? I said, ‘Yeah man, of course—I can do that with my eyes closed.’ So I came in, and noticed everybody was wrapping their hands. I was like, ‘Wait, why is everybody wrapping their hands?’”

That red flag wouldn’t be the last. After teaching some inside trips and throws to everyone per the agreement, he was paired off to spar with Couture, who was the UFC Heavyweight Champion at the time. When Munoz was asked to step in with “The Natural,” he did what any rational person would do in that situation—he protested.

“But then Urijah comes up to me and was like, ‘Dude, no worries—just double-jab, double-leg, and you’ll be fine, man, once you get him on the ground your instincts will take control.’ They peer pressured me, and here I always tell my kids never succumb to peer pressure. I double-jabbed and double-legged the first time, then the second time, then got in the third time—picked him up and slammed him on his back, and everyone was screaming, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I just took down Randy Couture!’ And then I’m just going Donkey Kong on him, just boom, boom, boom, 100 percent. And Randy was like, ‘Hey man, calm down. We’re not trying to kill each other—we’re sparring. I have to defend my belt, I can’t get injured.’ I was like, ‘Oh, sorry, I thought that was how we were supposed to do it.’ So after that, in classic Randy Couture style, he gets me against the cage and starts kneeing me and dirty boxing. I was like, ‘Hold on, I thought this is what we weren’t supposed to be doing?’”

In other words, Munoz was duped into a second career that he has all but flourished in, sporting a 13-3 professional MMA record. All it took to get here was Faber, a terrifying experience with Couture, and a Donkey Kong impression that he gets to try out on a whole crop of 185-pound guinea pigs. It looked like Munoz was right there in line for a title shot before he suffered a setback against the newly crowned UFC Middleweight Champion Chris Weidman in 2012.

Since then, it’s been a lot of ups and downs—he had to endure a year-long layoff where he recovered from a broken foot, ended up depressed, and, in his words, “fat”…only to lose all that weight, get right in his head, and rediscover his mojo. Out of the public eye for the most part, it’s been a fairly private restoration project. It seems he’s back, though. The Munoz that showed up against Boetsch at UFC 162 looks like the one that pummeled CB Dolloway and Chris Leben. Now, Munoz will travel to England to face Michael Bisping in October, in what will potentially serve as a catalyst for that title shot.

Not that he’s thinking too deeply about that stuff, as he trains the kids in his summer wrestling camp. As you may know by now, Munoz is a man of a million stories. In fact, while wrestling for the Cowboys on the collegiate mat, he came up against some unexpected pieces of jiu-jitsu in a match against an Oregon Duck.

“Man was I livid,” he says. “I can joke about it now, but at the time, I was really mad at Chael Sonnen. In the match, it was kind of close in the first period, we got into a scramble. So Chael—and he’d been fighting for quite some time and was actually studying jiu-jitsu and MMA when he was wrestling at Oregon—scrambled into a knee bar. I didn’t know what was happening, but I defended the knee bar, and then he went for a heel hook. And this is in a wrestling match! I ended up tapping, and the ref gave me one point for an illegal hold. But my ankle popped. All my trainers came out, and they were taping my foot. I was so mad that happened, so mad that I just turned into the Incredible Hulk. After that, I was just on him. I ended up scoring a lot of points on him and winning the match.”

The two were scheduled to fight each other in the cage in early 2012 before an elbow injury tabled Munoz, so the “rematch” never materialized. But these days, Sonnen and Munoz have become good friends and teammates together at Reign Training Center in Lake Forrest, where Munoz coaches.

“We can joke about the college match today, and he always goes, ‘Hey man, can you blame me? Can you blame me?’ I guess if the ‘If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying’ motto is true with him, then I can’t blame him—but I blame him anyway.”

Munoz, the coach, has been making headway of late. He not only has Sonnen in his stable, but Jake Ellenberger and an ever-growing list of brand names in the sport. He says he thinks he’s a better coach than he is an athlete, which is saying something when you consider his résumé. Munoz’s first love is wrestling, and that’s why he spends part of the summer running camps and broadening the talent levels of his teammates. It might also be the fundamental reason that the Weidman loss from the summer of 2012 sticks so sorely in his craw.

In that fight, in which he says he was out of sorts as the result of an “adversity stricken camp,” he just didn’t look right. He didn’t look right because, among other things, the wrestler was nowhere in sight. Munoz got knocked out via a wicked counter elbow in the second round in a bout he failed to land even one significant strike.

That fight launched Weidman toward history, while it sent Munoz off into a process of rediscovery. These days he can appreciate that silver lining, and after beating Boetsch the way he did, the first hurdle is cleared—Munoz is no longer the forgotten man in the 185-pound division.
“I made it apparent that me fighting Weidman that night last year and the guy who fought Boetsch this year are two totally different people,” he says. “I made that very apparent. I made sure the world saw that in my performance. I feel strongly about my wrestling, and I wasn’t able to showcase that during my fight because of some of the injuries I had.
I’ve always had a wrestling mentality, and it took me a whole year to sit out and change my perspective about training, and about injuries. I’m a wrestler—if I have an injury, I’m just going to tape it up, tough it out, and train. That’s who I was, and I needed this year to change my perspective.”

And with that, he turns back his attention to 150 young wrestlers following in his stubborn footsteps. It’s only early afternoon, and at 35-years-old and with a new head of steam, Munoz has miles to go before he sleeps.

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After bursting into the Octagon in February, the UFC women’s bantamweight division is showing no signs of cooling off. Anchored by the dominating presence of Ronda Rousey, this year’s fight calendar is packed with top-10 matchups, while a fresh crop of talent is set to emerge on the co-ed The Ultimate Fighter 18. Couple that with upstart female fight league Invicta FC, which is putting on its sixth show this month, and it’s a good time to be a bad girl…in the cage. Here are 10 female fighters who are bad to the core.

Ronda Rousey
Nickname: Rowdy
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: Venice, CA
Record: 7-0

Two years ago, Rousey was a graveyard-shift receptionist at 24-Hour Fitness and a physical therapist to dogs, occasionally over-drafting her checking account for McDonald’s coffee. She was suffering from competitive burnout after winning the bronze medal in judo in the 2008 Olympics. In the last year, she’s quickly built a resume of gold: UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champ, pay-per-view headliner, The Ultimate Fighter coach, and cover girl for ESPN The Magazine: Body Issue.

Replacing Gina Carano as the face of women’s MMA, the undefeated Rousey has turned the armbar into a signature move and become a cash cow for the UFC. A top-five PPV draw after her UFC 157 main-event against Liz Carmouche, she next fights Miesha Tate following their stint as coaches on TUF 18.

Cat Zingano
Nickname: Alpha
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: Broomfield, CO
Record: 8-0

A regional champ at 125-135 pounds, undefeated Cat Zingano was scheduled to make her big-show debut last year at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Healy, but the event was canceled. Zuffa, however, kept her contract handy. Six months later, she awoke to a missed call from a Las Vegas-area number. It was UFC president Dana White, who told her she would win a title shot and coaching position opposite Rousey if she beat Miesha Tate at the TUF 17 Finale.

Although lesser-known than her ex-champion counterpart, Zingano grabbed the spotlight in April by smashing Tate with a flurry of knees in the second-ever women’s UFC bout. Unfortunately, a knee injury forced her to withdraw from TUF 18 and her title shot, but she is expected to face the winner of Rousey vs. Tate sometime next year.

Miesha Tate
Nickname: Cupcake
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: Yakima, WA
Record: 13-4

Miesha Tate wrestled on the boys’ team in high school and joined an MMA club in college. She became a fixture of the bantamweight class in Strikeforce, where she posted a 4-1 record before submitting Marloes Coenen to win the promotion’s title.

Her rivalry with Ronda Rousey helped push women’s MMA back to headliner status in March 2012, but unfortunately, the star-making opportunity would again go to her opponent, as Rousey brutally dislocated her elbow with an armbar. Zingano’s injury now gives her another chance at redemption, and she’s set to rematch Rousey in late December after coaching TUF 18.

Marloes Coenen
Nickname: Rumina
Division: Featherweight
Hometown: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Record: 21-5

One of the most experienced female fighters in active competition, Coenen came to national prominence in Strikeforce, where she faltered against the ferocious Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino but came back to armbar Sarah Kaufman to win the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Title.

Coenen, who began training martial arts to guard against attackers during a daily bike ride through a forest in her hometown, had a short title reign, submitting future UFC contender Liz Carmouche but tapping out to Miesha Tate. One of four casualties in a business dispute between her MMA team Golden Glory and Zuffa, Coenen was cut from Strikeforce, but she found a home with Invicta FC, where she’ll get a chance at revenge against Cyborg this month.

Cristiane Justino
Nickname: Cyborg
Division: Featherweight
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 11-1

Discovered playing handball by legendary Chute Boxe trainer Rudimar Fedrigo, Christiane Justino was as fierce in the gym as she was on the court. Making her big-show debut in the defunct EliteXC, “Cyborg,” who took her nickname from her now-ex-husband Evangelista Santos, quickly made it clear that opponents couldn’t hang with her relentless output of violence. With a flurry of fists, knees, and ground-and-pound, she obliterated the scant competition in the featherweight division, including the face of women’s MMA, Gina Carano.

After a positive test for steroids that led to her ouster from Strikeforce, Santos spent almost two years on the bench, during which she developed a heated rivalry with Rousey that stoked the fire of a potential blockbuster PPV. It wasn’t to be, as Justino passed on a new UFC contract in favor of a deal with Invicta FC. Cyborg will rematch Marloes Coenen in July, but many believe a showdown with Rousey is inevitable.

Sarah Kaufman
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Record: 16-2

Trading ballet slippers for MMA gloves as a teen, Kaufman proved to be as nimble inside the cage as on the dance floor, mowing down four straight top-tier opponents in Strikeforce—one by epic KO slam—and winning the Strikeforce Women’s Bantamweight Title. She lost the belt to Coenen and became victim No. 9 of Rousey’s armbar, but she was one of the first signed to the UFC when the promotion opened up to women.

Kaufman, who has been working closely with Greg Jackson in recent years, now awaits her Octagon debut.

Sara McMann
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: Gaffney, S.C.
Record: 7-0

A standout wrestler in high school, Sara McMann medaled in three World Championships before winning a spot in the 2004 Olympics, where she became the first American women to win silver as a freestyle competitor.

After a failed bid for the 2008 Olympic team, she switched to MMA in 2011 and won four fights that year. After a brief stint in Invicta, McMann was signed by the UFC and made her debut at UFC 159, where she earned a first-round TKO over Shiela Gaff. With her stellar mat credentials and improving striking game, she’s consistently mentioned as a future contender to Rousey’s crown.

Alexis Davis
Nickname: Ally-Gator
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: Port Colborne, Ontario, Canada
Record: 14-5

If you want to watch a display of grit and heart, pull up Davis’ fight against Sarah Kaufman at Strikeforce: Tate vs. Rousey. A non-stop flurry of fists, she took everything Kaufman doled out and kept coming forward, blood and all. She lost the fight, but impressed UFC matchmakers after a pair of wins in Invicta. In her UFC debut, Davis defeated Rosi Sexton via unanimous decision.

A black-belt in jiu-jitsu, her nimbleness on the mat and raw heart make her a tough challenge for anyone in the bantamweight class.

Liz Carmouche
Nickname: Girl-Rilla
Division: Bantamweight
Hometown: San Diego, CA
Record: 8-3

Carmouche put fans on the edge of their seats at UFC 157 when she took Ronda Rousey’s back and cranked the champ’s face so hard she left the fight with bite marks on her forearm. Of course, her surge would be short-lived, as Rousey bucked and found her trademark armbar. But the impression she left wasn’t lost on the UFC.

Carmouche, who’s set to fight newcomer Jessica Andrade at UFC on FOX 8 on July 27, made headlines as a former Marine and openly gay fighter. But at 29 years old, her compelling backstory only complements what’s been a quick rise in the 135-pound division. So far, only champs and former champs have trumped her ground-and-pound skills.

Michelle Waterson
Nickname: Karate Hottie
Division: Atomweight
Hometown: Albuquerque, NM
Record: 11-3

The former Hooters girl, bikini model, and Wushu practitioner got her intro to MMA through UFC lightweight Donald Cerrone before eventually becoming a regular at Jackson-Winkeljohn’s MMA. After some initial struggles in her MMA transition, the 27-year-old earned her biggest win to date when she bested Jessica Penne to win the Invicta FC Atomweight Championship.
Although the 105-pound champ’s division is probably furthest from inclusion in the UFC’s ranks, Waterson could be a breakout star if Invicta is able to secure a TV deal this year.

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Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the world. It garners more attention and new fans daily. The emergence of so many new athletes sometimes makes it hard for fans to notice some of the fi ghters on the verge of making it to the next level. MMAWeekly.com takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.

WAGNER PRADO

RECORD: 7-0
KEY VICTORY: Luis Eduardo da Paixao
WEIGHT CLASS: 205 lbs.
AGE: 24
COUNTRY: Brazil
NICKNAME: Caldeirao

On any given day at Team Nogueira in Brazil, the mats could be filled with fighters such as Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. For a fighter like undefeated light heavyweight prospect Wagner “Caldeirao” Prado, training alongside legends is something that he is honored to do on a daily basis.

Prado started fi ghting full-contact Muay Thai when he was 19 years old. Within a few years, MMA caught his eye, and he couldn’t resist the challenge. Three years later, Prado made his pro MMA debut, beating two fi ghters in a one-night tournament. It was right into the fire for the young fighter, who then parlayed that opportunity into an appearance on the popular Brazilian variety show Caldeirao do Huck, where he met his future coaches and training partners.

“I’m fortunate enough to train with my idols,” says Prado. “Training side by side with them is the best thing for me. I’m training with the best to become one of the best.”

Prado is quickly joining those ranks, amassing an undefeated 7-0 record with six (T)KOs. For a young man who has only been fighting for a few years, he’s ahead of the learning curve.

“I have evolved a lot in a short period of time, but I know that I still have much more to learn, and I am working hard for that,” says Prado. “Currently, besides my boxing, Muay Thai, and BJJ practices, I have been concentrating on my wrestling and strength and conditioning, which are new to me. I have had great results, so the tendency is to keep improving.”

While Prado’s own improvement has continued to develop, he’s also watched the sport of MMA develop in his home country. Since the UFC’s return to Brazil in 2011, the country has MMA fever.

“This whole expansion has taken me by surprise—it’s been very fast,” says Prado. “MMA and the UFC are in style in Brazil.”

Not only are Brazilians watching the UFC, the UFC continues to watch the best young talent come out of Brazil, and Prado’s name is high on the list.

A devastating striker with knockout power in both hands and a rapidly improving ground game have made Prado an easy sell to audiences all over the world.

“My biggest dream is to be the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, and thank God, I’m on the right track, but I’ll go up one step at a time,” he says. “I’m working toward achieving my goal, and one day I’ll be there.”

SEAN SANTELLA

RECORD: 10-3
KEY VICTORIES: Bryan Lashbomb, Tuan Pham
WEIGHT CLASS: 125 lbs.
AGE: 27
COUNTRY: U.S.A.
NICKNAME: Shorty Rock

Sean “Shorty Rock” Santella was doing pretty well as a bantamweight, making his way up the MMA ladder by earning an 8-3-1 record. However, now that the 125-pound fl yweight division is becoming more prominent, Santella is ready to break out.

“I had a good run at 135 pounds, but I couldn’t really compete with those guys who have 20 pounds on me,” Santella says. “I’ve waited for the UFC to add the fl yweight class for so long.”

Now that the division is going to be a fi xture in the UFC, Santella is excited for the possibilities. Since dropping to 125 pounds earlier this year, Santella has added the Cage Fury Flyweight Title to his collection of accolades, but he’s got his eyes set on the same prize as most other fighters—the bright lights and bigger paydays of the UFC. He knows that he’s got to pay his dues to get there, but Santella feels that he is right on the cusp of a call from UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.

Joining AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ, with UFC fi ghters Jim Miller, Frankie Edgar, and Charlie Brenneman, Santella has the training to go along with the skills to be successful in the Octagon—it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.

“It’s a waiting game, but I’m going to fight regardless. I love to fi ght,” says Santella, whose record now stands at 10-3-1, with back-to-back victories in 2012. “When they call, I’m going to be ready. But on the same end, I’m not going to sit around. I’m going to keep fighting the best guys I can, so I’ll be ready when that call does come.”

Until then, he’ll do what he does best—train and fi ght—and get tossed around by some of the best fighters in the business.

“I’m excited every morning when I get up to go train, knowing I’m going to get my ass kicked by the best guys in the world,” he says. “It’s kind of sick, but it puts a smile on my face.”

KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV

RECORD: 17-0
KEY VICTORY: Kamal Shalorus
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 lbs.
AGE: 23
COUNTRY: Russia
NICKNAME: The Eagle

Khabib Nurmagomedov is not a name that easily rolls off the English-speaking tongue, but it is a name that fight fans, regardless of their linguistic abilities, should get used to. Nurmagomedov is a Russian fighter who has distinct abilities in his country’s national combat sport of Sambo, which relies heavily on grappling skills. He is a National and World Sambo Champion, and he has carried those skills into his MMA career.

In just three years, he amassed a spotless 16-0 record fighting in Russian and Ukrainian promotions. Nurmagomedov scored six submissions, but he proved his fists are just as worthy as his ground prowess, with six knockouts on his résumé.

Fighting in a ring in Russia and stepping into the Octagon under the bright lights of the biggest MMA promotion in the world is another story. But it’s a story that Nurmagomedov knows well.

Following his success in Russia, Nurmagomedov made the move to the United States, training in New Jersey, primarily at K-Dojo with a host of other Russian fighters, but also alongside numerous UFC veterans and fellow New Blooder Sean Santella at AMA.

All of his training helped lead to a successful Octagon debut at the inaugural UFC on FX event in Nashville, TN, in January. Taking on seasoned fighter Kamal Shalorus, Nurmagomedov had to go deep into the fight, but his submission skills paid off with a third-round rear naked choke submission.

Successfully handling the move from the ring to the Octagon, Nurmagomedov continues to forge his way in foreign territory. He will face the toughest test of his career in the form of Gleison Tibau at UFC 148 in July, where a victory would put him several rungs up the lightweight ladder.

It may be a bit early to talk titles for Nurmagomedov, but with his background, and the way he’s handled the move to the UFC, it’s also not completely out of the question. Keep an eye on this Russian fighter—and remember the name because you will be hearing it a lot.

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Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir
UFC on Fox 7: 4/20/13
San Jose, CA

Here’s a joke: How do you put an alligator in an armbar? Wait, we’ll get back to that.

image descWhen Daniel Cormier and Frank Mir square off at UFC on Fox 7 on April 20, the aftershock (265-pound pun intended) will be felt in both the heavyweight and light heavyweight divisions. Cormier—the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Champion—is perhaps the most lauded crossover from Strikeforce, and that’s saying a lot, especially when you consider that Gilbert Melendez, Luke Rockhold, and Gegard Mousasi have also paid the toll to Charon to be ferried from Strikeforce’s deceased to the UFC. Mir—the grandfather of UFC heavyweights—is a two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion, the longest tenured fighter in the UFC (since 2001), and the winningest fighter (14) in the UFC heavyweight division.

With a win, Cormier controls his own destiny: he can choose to fight the winner of Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva (5/25/13) or drop to light heavyweight (belly permitting) and fight the winner of Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen (4/27/13). If Velasquez beats Silva, it’s unlikely Cormier will want to face his AKA training partner and friend, so a move to light heavyweight could be in the cards, if he can cut back on the Chinese food.

A win for Mir? Tack on a plus-one win over someone like Alistair Overeem or Fabricio Werdum, and boom—he’s back fighting for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Mir is definitely in the upper echelon of UFC bigs. Calling him a “gatekeeper” is insulting, especially when you look at his résumé. In the heavyweight division, there are no gatekeepers. If you’re fighting for the title, you’re just one punch away from hoisting gold. Big trees fall hard.

Let’s Get It On

Cormier is a world-class wrestler, a commonly misunderstood distinction. He’s not a great wrestler (like Gray Maynard, Michael Chandler, and Chris Weidman). He’s not a badass wrestler (such as Phil Davis, Josh Koscheck, and Johny Hendricks). He’s a world-class wrestler (in the vein of Ben Askren, Joe Warren, and Sara McMann). According to FightMetric, Cormier’s takedown defense is 100 percent. When you couple that with Frank Mir’s takedown accuracy of 46 percent, it spells problems for the former UFC Heavyweight Champ. If Cormier doesn’t want to take the fight to the ground, there is a good chance it won’t end up there, at least not for very long. And the ground is where BJJ black belt Mir is most dangerous. Give him a toe, and you’ll hear Tank Abbott scream through the TV. Give him a knee, and you’ll hear Brock Lesnar scream through the TV. Give him an arm, and you’ll hear 196,655,007 Brazilians scream through the TV.

image descFor Mir to control his own destiny, he’ll have to utilize his 50 percent significant striking accuracy and 8-inch reach advantage against Cormier’s alligator arms. If Mir has one superior attribute (besides his BJJ pedigree), it’s reach advantage, not that it fared too well for Josh Barnett (+7 inches) or Antonio Silva (+11 inches) in their fights with Cormier. Mir will need to put on his skates and move, move, move inside the cage. Trying to punch Cormier from the clinch will lead to trouble.

What about Mir’s experience edge you ask? It’s true, he more than doubles Cormier in pro bouts, but I’m throwing that factor right out the window. If anything, taking pummelings from Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, and Junior dos Santos has made Mir’s melon more unstable than a Corvair. Cormier, on the other hand, hasn’t taken any real damage. He’s like a 34-year-old MMA spring chicken.

The eye test says Cormier is slicker on his feet, with superior hand speed, feints, and footwork. When he gets in trouble with his stand-up, he takes the fight to the mat. Having a world-class wrestling pedigree is a nice default mechanism to fall back on. However, if there is one place Mir should be feared, it’s on his back. He averages almost three submission attempts for every 15 minutes and owns nine career submission wins. He’s also a sweeping fool. Mir sweeps more than most heavyweights eat.

In 29 minutes inside the cage, Cormier has never attempted a submission. He’s never tried a sweep (mainly because he’s never been taken down). Heck, he may be unaware that submissions are legal. Once a wrestler learns to punch, it’s like Christmas every day. There’s no time for silly submissions.

While it’s fun to dissect the minutiae, we really won’t know until both men step inside the Octagon. Once the cage door slams shut, anything can happen, and I mean A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. If you need a few recent heavyweight reference points, watch Frank Mir vs. Big Nog II, Antonio Silva vs. Alistair Overeem, or Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve.

Back to the joke. How do you put an alligator in an armbar? Very carefully.

Cormier will come chomping. Mir needs to be careful.

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For hardcore and casual MMA fans alike, Chris Lytle’s name held enough weight to hype a fight, even in the absence of the stereotypical smacktalk that clogs media outlets prior to most fight cards. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that although Lytle’s smash-mouth, submission-hunting style had roots in technical expertise, he slung it with just enough calculated craziness to remain unpredictable and exciting. Or maybe it’s because when Lytle fought, he would bring it with a class and a purity that sometimes eluded his peers. Whatever the case, here are seven (okay, okay…nine) of Lytle’s fights that will forever remain in the memory of fight fans across the globe.

7. ROBBIE LAWLER

UFC 45: NOVEMBER 21, 2003

UNANIMOUS DECISION LOSS

When two men going by the monikers of “Ruthless” and “Lights Out” are locked inside a cage and told to fight, bombs are expected to fly. Not one to disappoint, Lytle played his part in this slugfest, not only to meet fans’ expectations, but also to exceed them. The most memorable tidbits of this scrap were not the ones that saw fists and feet flying, but the noteworthy showmanship of both Lytle and Lawler, who at one point stood center stage and postured at each other with a blood-curdling scream and bodybuilder pose-off on Lawler’s part, while Lytle feverishly clapped and nodded his head in excitement. Much to the delight of those lucky enough to be watching, Lytle kept at it with the applause, even after receiving a flooring, jaw-crushing blow that would’ve crumpled anybody else into an unconscious heap.

6. JASON GILLIAM

UFC 73: JULY 7, 2007

SUBMISSION VICTORY: ROUND 1, 2:15

Following back-to-back decision losses to Matt Serra in the TUF 4 finale and Matt Hughes at UFC 68, something snapped inside of Lytle. In an instant, gone were the days of playing it safe with strategic and lackluster planning, and resurrected was Lytle’s balls-to-the-wall approach from the days of old. In a fight that lasted only 135 seconds, Lytle quickly established his dominance over former JUCO wrestler and game opponent Jason Gilliam. The ensuing action was a knock-down, drag-out brawl akin to two cartoon mutts viciously scrapping in a dusty cloud of chaos, where all that can be observed is flailing limbs, shooting stars, cheesy sound effects, and of course, a snazzy inverted triangle/straight armbar submission that saw Gilliam tapping out in pain.

5. THIAGO ALVES

UFC 78: NOVEMBER 17, 2007

DOCTOR STOPPAGE LOSS: ROUND 2, 5:00

When Chris Lytle and Thiago Alves clashed in the cage, they treated fans to two high-powered rounds of punishing action before a cut over Lytle’s right eye prompted the cageside doctor to prematurely stop the fight. Even so, post-fight footage told the tale well, as close-ups of both fighters showed that the right sides of each man’s face had clearly seen better days. Perhaps more of a tease of what could have been than what actually was, this fight served to showcase Lytle’s wild hands and gutsy fighting spirit, while leaving fans salivating for more.

4. KYLE BRADLEY

UFC 81: FEBRUARY 2, 2008

TKO VICTORY: ROUND 1, 0:33

Ironically enough, it was in this UFC fight, and this UFC fight only, that “Lights Out” lived up to his name in a literal sense of the expression. With a few punch/kick combos, followed by a flurry of boxing so dirty that it could be considered filthy, Lytle sent Bradley face-planting to the canvas, where referee Yves Lavigne mercifully called a stop to the bout. In fact, Bradley’s brain was so scrambled by Lytle’s shots that as Lytle danced in celebration, Bradley haphazardly pulled Lavigne into his open guard and fought fruitlessly to control his posture, thinking the fight was anything but over.

3. MATT BROWN

UFC 116: JULY 3, 2010

SUBMISSION VICTORY: ROUND 2, 2:02

Things didn’t start out so hot for Lytle in this bout, as the larger Brown seemed to bully Lytle around the Octagon, eventually catching him in a D’Arce choke. Despite the choke being ratcheted tight enough to render half of the fans unconscious simply from watching, Lytle gutted it out to survive the first round. Following the one-minute break, Lytle rallied in the second round, first securing a mounted guillotine on Brown, before switching to side mount—a seemingly foolish maneuver to most. In a split second, Lytle transitioned into his near-trademarked inverted triangle/straight armbar combo that had Brown submitting to Lytle for the second time in as many fights, this time by way of screaming in pain rather than traditional tap.

2. PAUL TAYLOR, MARCUS DAVIS, KEVIN BURNS

UFC 89: OCT. 18. 2008, DECISION WIN (VS TAYLOR)

UFC 93: JAN. 17, 2009, DECISION LOSS (VS DAVIS)

TUF 9 FINALE: JUNE 20, 2009, DECISION WIN (VS BURNS)

In these three successive fights, Lytle displayed immeasurable heart and physical toughness on his way to two decision victories and three well-deserved Fight of the Night bonuses. Fights like these best epitomized Lytle’s fighting fortitude, as well as the uncharacteristic fan expectation that came along with it—whereas most fights that go to the distance are accompanied by boos and stale action, the only disappointment in fans’ eyes at the conclusion of Lytle’s fights were due to the fact that there was no more action to be seen. It is in this sense that Lytle will be most missed in the Octagon, as his unorthodox style and true grit served to embody not a sport where rankings, celebrity status, and statistics were the core of conversation, but rather where the deeper meaning of MMA could be acutely observed—man battling man until the bloody end, no questions asked.

1. DAN HARDY

UFC LIVE 5: AUGUST 14, 2011

SUBMISSION VICTORY: ROUND 3, 4:16

With Lytle announcing his retirement plans prior to his 20th career fight in the UFC, there was only one question on the minds of MMA fans: Would Lytle remain one of the very few professional fighters to avoid defeat in his swansong? With proficient striker Dan Hardy standing across the cage, guesses were mixed and emotions were high. However, Lytle abused the face and body of the Brit in front of millions before locking in a fight-ending guillotine late in the third round. Between the foresight and wisdom he displayed in his pre-emptive retirement announcement, to the actual fight and heartfelt post-fight speech, fans were treated to a storybook ending of a prolific career, with Chris “Lights Out” Lytle at his finest every step of the way.

When Chris Lytle fights, there’s no quit in the guy. With some fighters, they get to a point where they see their own blood or they take a beating and they get tired and you start to see little signs of surrender coming out of them, but there’s no quit in Chris Lytle. He’s all fight, yet he doesn’t walk around like a tough guy-he is a tough guy. As a fan of his fights, I’m going to miss him, but as his friend, I just want to congratulate him on an awesome career. -Matt Serra

Chris was always a class act and a fighter who gave everything-every time out. I am exceedingly happy that he was able to end his career on his own terms and with a great victory. He is the true definition of an MMA fighter and a family man. -Pat Miletich

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The fighters you see on TV were once green professionals, fighting in front of small crowds for a few hundred dollars and travel money. Almost every week, I am at a local MMA event in the Southeast watching new pros make their debut. With the shear number of gyms popping up, I am seeing more fighters who are ill prepared for their pro debut. In many sports, this may make little difference. However, in MMA, where violence is honed to a fine edge, there is the potential for serious injuries. My first inclination is to blame the promoter/matchmaker, but they are only partially accountable. The lion’s share of fault lies with the fighters, coaches, and managers. It comes down  to knowing when a fighter is ready for a pro debut.

 

In my gym, that’s an easy question to answer: When I say so! I have made my share of mistakes, but I have learned a lot over the last 11 years. Below are the five factors I believe must be weighed prior to a fighter making his debut in professional MMA.

 

1) CONDITIONING

 

This is the most important aspect of the game for an aspiring pro fighter. Most amateur fights have three-minute rounds. The bump from three-minute to five-minute rounds is a huge difference. An aspiring pro should have an extensive strength and conditioning program under his belt and a solid camp leading up to the debut. No matter how prepared a fighter is, it’s never enough for that first fight.

 

2) THREE GAMES (STANDUP, CLINCH, GROUND)

 

Professional fighters need to be well rounded. Having a weakness in one area is harder to mask at the pro level. At a minimum, young pros should have solid boxing, a strong clinch, good sprawl, and more experience than a blue belt in BJJ. Expertise in one area can make up for weakness in another area with the proper strategy and gameplan.

 

3) EXPERIENCE

 

An amateur career is necessary. Competitive experience in any of the disciplines that constitute MMA is acceptable, though a wrestling/grappling background is generally preferred. Fighters should have a minimum of five amateur wins, with at least one of the fights being a real test.

 

4) PEER REVIEW

 

The best way to prepare for a professional debut is to train with other pros. Often, this will take place in the form of a mock fight. If a fighter can survive and even excel in the cage for three, five-minute rounds against a seasoned vet, he will be prepared against another green pro.

 

5) INTANGIBLES

 

These are the qualities that only an experienced coach is qualified to determine. Regardless of what we call them—toughness, heart, fortitude—these qualities will often dictate victory. A fighter who works hard, learns to deal with adversity, and listens to his coaches has a great chance of becoming successful in pro MMA.

 

MMA is a serious sport. The line between victory, defeat, and injury is razor thin. Fighting professionally raises these stakes considerably. Correct preparation requires thousands of hours of hard work. Even when a fighter is ready, it’s important to have smart matchmaking. Only an inexperienced coach would allow a fighter to make his pro debut against Dan Severn for $200—which I did to Forrest Griffin in 2001. Nowadays, I try to match a green pro against another green pro, keeping my eyes open for matches that give my fighter a stylistic advantage.

 

The rush to turn professional (and make some money) must be carefully examined. More money can be made with a good career that starts out with the right foundation—a reputable gym, smart coaching, and a solid skill base. Fight smart fights rather than jumping into the deep end for instant gratification. It’s not as easy as it looks, and a fighter’s health and longevity in the sport necessitates proper preparation. It takes patience to do it right.

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