Names in the Game from the Magazine

Names in the Game from the Magazine

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Despite losing a small fortune in bonus money for a failed drug test at UFC 159, lightweight Pat Healy manned-up and moved forward.

Following the biggest victory of his career in April, UFC lightweight Pat Healy was suddenly transformed into a teenager who had worked hard all summer and couldn’t wait for his first, fat paycheck to arrive in the mail.

“I was going to my mailbox every day, waiting for that big check to finally come” says Healy. “Then one day I got a letter from the NJ Athletic Commission instead.” It may as well have been a letter from Mr. Buzzkillington.

Making his UFC debut, Healy had just pulled off a major upset at UFC 159 in New Jersey, submitting perennial contender Jim Miller in his own backyard and earning the Team Quest fighter both “Submission of the Night” and “Fight of the Night” bonuses totaling $130,000. It was the breakout performance of his career and by far the biggest payday for the hard-nosed Irishman from Salem, Oregon.

“I got very nervous and thought to myself, this is not good,” Healy says. “I opened the letter up and it said that I’d failed the post-fight drug test and was suspended for 90 days. I then realized I wasn’t going to get any of the bonus money.”

He was right. Healy’s victory was overturned to a no-contest, he had to forfeit his $5,000 win bonus, and he lost out on the $130,000 award bonuses after his post-fight drug test relieved marijuana in his system. Yes, marijuana, which is now legal in two states. While pot continues to gain acceptance in society, it is still a banned substance by athletic commissions regulating MMA, including the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, which oversaw his fight against Miller.

While other fighters are receiving fines of a couple thousand dollars for having elevated testosterone levels or PEDs in their system, you could argue this was much too severe of a penalty for a non-performance-enhancing drug, but not Healy, who admitted that he used marijuana, accepted the UFC and commission’s disciplinary measures, and took responsibility for his actions.

“It certainly was a bummer losing out on all that money, but it was my own fault, I had to be a man about it,” says Healy. “I didn’t want to be one of those guys who lied about it and said it was secondhand smoke or anything like that. I wanted to address the issue right away because I didn’t want people to think I used PEDs—that is very important to me—so I guess I just had to man-up.”

The decision to smoke weed with some old friends would prove to be a very costly decision for the veteran fighter.

“I smoked like three or four weeks out,” he says. “I didn’t really think it would be an issue when it came to the drug test. I knew the rules and never should have done it, but I never thought it would be an issue. I’m sure there are many things I could have done to make sure my system was clean, but I didn’t really even think about it and was very surprised when it came up in my system.”

Surprised may be the understatement of the year.

While the loss of thousands of dollars could prove to be the breaking point for some, Healy has used the unfortunate situation to rededicate himself to mixed martial arts. He has a new four-fight deal with the UFC, is scheduled to face undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov September 21 at UFC 165 in Toronto, and is looking to build off his performance against Miller to get into title contention.

“There were a few days where I stared at a wall in a dark room and was very angry with myself,” says Healy. “But I just tried to be a man about it, took responsibility, and leaned on family and friends to help me get over it. The fight with Nurmagomedov is exactly what I need. He’s tough, has impressive wrestling skills, and is undefeated. If I can get another win against him, I feel I’ll be right back in the mix.”

Even with his win over Miller officially being overturned to a no-contest, “Bam Bam” is doing some of the best fighting of his career recently and is 9-1 in his past 10 fights. The veteran of 45 professional bouts has recorded victories over Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, and Dan Hardy.

Although Healy has received some much needed support during this difficult time, it doesn’t mean he didn’t get an earful from those closest to him.

“My brother Ryan didn’t let me have it too bad, but his wife certainly had some choice words,” he says. “She wasn’t happy because we have a business plan that we are working on to invest in a UFC gym where my brother currently works as an assistant general manager and is taking over as full GM. So she was pretty upset with me because that would have been the rest of the money to complete the investment. I got reamed pretty hard by her for that.”

While the UFC has pleaded with athletic commissions to reduce the penalty for marijuana and increase the allowable threshold of the drug being in a fighters’ system, Healy, for now, is the poster-boy for being busted for smoking marijuana. It was a hard lesson to learn.

“You just can’t take things for granted,” says Healy. “I took things too lightly by doing something against the rules. I really appreciate my job and being with the UFC and am happy they stood behind me and really thankful for all I still have. I’m officially finished with pot.”
Although it may have been the “high road” that got him into this mess in the first place, the 30-year-old continues to travel down that path.

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Back in the day—the “day” being approximately 1994—fighters were clueless in every regard. It wasn’t until everyone got their asses handed to them by a skinny Brazilian named Royce Gracie (being the culturally aware world citizen that I am, I thought he was a Mexican in pajamas) that they realized they had to train in several martial arts to win fights. I was a part of this batch. Where I came from, fighting on the ground was considered dirty and unsportsman like.

 

The lack of skills in the cage I could have handled, but these guys were also totally clueless about proper fight attire. The first tournaments had guys wearing all sorts of crazy shit. In one fight, you’d see a guy wearing a gi while his opponent wore biker shorts, a pair of Pony tennis shoes, and a single boxing glove. In the next fight, you’d see a dude in a pair of Oakley’s and cutoff jeans fighting a guy wearing a skirt and a pair of sandals. The shit was ridiculous. Thankfully, the athletic commissions stepped in and began putting restrictions on ring attire. Don’t get me wrong, that shit was funny to see. I just don’t want to fight a dude wearing a kilt and combat boots.

 

If you plan on becoming a fighter or are already one, it is important for you to realize that the fight shorts you wear into the cage define you as a person. In all honesty, it is the most important decision you will ever make. Eva. When I first got into the sport, I didn’t fully comprehend this. I used to wear red shorts because, as everyone knows, red makes you 7% more aggressive. Don’t question me. It’s science. However, after further review, I realized that my opponent was the one looking at the red, which made him 7% more aggressive. If I had worn the red trunks when fighting Rampage, I’d probably be dead right now. The upside to my death would have been that instead of reading this bullshit article, you’d be doing something productive with your life. For example, actually training to fight.

 

I went back to the drawing board and decided on a different color—a very relaxing, warm, crème brûlée tan—to soothe my opponent into a peaceful state. I’d hoped that the color of my shorts would just cause my opponent to sort of lie down on the canvas and go to sleep, allowing me to beat on him for the 15-minute duration, but that hasn’t happened yet. Still need to work on the color a bit. Maybe more brûlée—a color so soothing that you can find peace even in a dentist’s office or other high anxiety places, such as the DMV or Dana White’s office.

 

Some people might consider white a soothing color, but that’s no good. Here’s the thing about white shorts: it’s almost a guarantee that you will get busted wide open and bleed like a stuck pig. By the end of the fight, your bright blood will have mixed with the pristine white, making your shorts pink—not quite a salmon pink, but more of nauseating, used-tampon pink. That’s not good. But what’s even worse is that some guys actually chose to walk into the cage with pink shorts. I assume that they are trying to get into their opponent’s head. I mean, you’ve got to be super tough to wear pink—“The Boy Named Sue” philosophy. But, if you are going to go to those extremes, you might as well go all the way.Throw some frilly lace into the mix and a matching handbag. Come to think of it, the handbag will be a great place to put your balls. You should probably even tuck your junk, look into the mirror, and discuss whether or not you’d bang yourself as your walkout song begins to play.

 

Some fighters realize that white and pink are terrible colors and go with the polar opposite—camo colored trunks. This is ok, but if you go this route, just make sure you are not a timid fighter. There is nothing worse than a fighter wearing badass camo, tiptoeing around the cage, and desperately hoping their multi-colored trunks will help them stay hidden from their opponent. Plus, if you wear camouflage trunks and aren’t in the military, you look slightly douche-ish. But then again, you might look like a douche no matter what color trunks you are wearing. Yeah, that’s probably the case.

 

The next thing you must consider is the type of material your shorts are made of. Some fighters, like Koscheck and St-Pierre, go with the throwback tight shorts. I guess wrestlers like tight clothes because it makes them feel safe and singlet…I mean secure. Don’t get me wrong—I am not bashing tight shorts (well, kind of). You just have to be aware that there are some inherent dangers. A perfect example is when Randy Couture took on Vitor Belfort in 1997. Vitor grabbed Randy’s tights like a prostitute grabbing onto your money, and in a matter of minutes, Randy’s tights were completely shredded. Thank heavens Randy had the wherewithal to double bag it that day. If he hadn’t, we might very well be calling him “Captain Underpants” rather than “Captain America.”

 

There are many types of tight shorts you can wear, the most infamous being the classic wrestler’s singlet. Occasionally, usually in smaller shows in Iowa or Mississippi, you will see an ex-high school wrestler turned pro MMA athlete wear a singlet into the cage. Personally, I have fought an opponent clad in a singlet. Being a guy with more than five professional heavyweight fights, I, of course, have fought Travis Fulton. And yes, he was wearing a singlet. However, I don’t think he was trying to make any sort of fashion statement. I simply think he was trying to keep his gut in check.

 

Then we have Speedos, otherwise known as the banana hammock. These were popularized by ancient fighters, such as Dan “The Beast” Severn and Ken Shamrock. However, no one pulled this look off better than Wanderlei Silva back in his Pride days. He wore Euro trash Speedos—you know, the kind old Irish vacationers wear on the beaches in Spain. Unlike the old Irish, however, Wanderlei had great success with the Speedos, and I don’t mean fighting success. No, I mean he looked cool as fuck in them. Inversely, Heath Herring wore the banana hammock and had very little success. Don’t get me wrong—I’m pleased that he’s comfortable with his own hyper-masculinity. And by “hyper-masculinity,” I mean his giant, white, hairy thighs. What I think was really off-putting were the wrestling sneakers he wore to the ring. The sneakers certainly added some “flare,” but the ensemble did not work as a whole. (Notice that I used quotation marks around the word “flare” to distance myself from the unmanly word. In fact, re-read that sentence and imagine someone else saying the word, not me. Do that right now. I know how words can sometimes stick, and seeing that I don’t have a nickname, the last thing I want is to become Forrest “Flare” Griffin. On second thought, that doesn’t really sound all that bad. Maybe one of you could mention it to Joe Rogan. Try to get him say it during my next fight so it becomes official.)

 

Finally, we have the “fat football coach shorts” or “professional bicycle rider shorts.” Both are the same, they are simply defined by your waistline. If you are going to wear these, you must be as cool as Don Frye. That’s right, I’m talking about Don “The Predator” Frye. Not only were his shorts made of spandex, but they also donned the American flag. While fighting over in Japan, he singlehandedly protected democracy, much like Rocky did when fighting the Russian, as well as making a very bold fashion statement. Don Frye is a true patriot and a real American hero. He was soutterly manly that he was actually able to make his shorts cool. I thought about foll
owing his lead and sporting a pair of spandex with the confederate flag, but, thankfully, my wife talked me out of that. In hindsight, that might not have gone over too well.

 

If you like to live dangerously, you can also get really creative with the design on your shorts. But again, you have to really think this out first. Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell has ice on his shorts, which makes sense. Then you have Tito Ortiz. This guy has flaming shorts. Not a far stretch from a rainbow, am I right? What kind of statement is he trying to make? Is he trying to show his flaming personality? Does he have a flaming desire to do something when he climbs into the cage and is alone with another man? Is he from Huntington Beach or San Francisco? OK, I might be reading a little too deeply into this flaming thing.

 

Confused about what kind and color of trunks to wear into the ring? Yeah, I am kinda confusing myself right now. The bottom line is that you have some difficult decisions to make. Do you go with the hip board shorts to appeal to the male youth of America? Do you go with the spandex shorts to appeal to the female youth of America? Do you go with the nut-hugging Speedos to appeal…well, to appeal to Europeans, I guess? And what colors do you chose?

 

Unlike all of the fashion magazines that offer conflicting suggestions, I am going to tell you exactly how to make these hard choices. That’s right, you must go on a vision quest. You have to wander deep into a desert (could be the Utah desert or the Sahara desert, it doesn’t matter as long as there is lots of sand and plenty of camels), strip naked, thoroughly dehydrate yourself, and then pierce your nipples and swing by them from a pole for two days. Just before you black out, you will see your spirit animal, and he will tell you what type of shorts to wear.

 

I know my instructions might sound rather ludicrous, but I ripped the scene off from the movie A Man Called Horse, and that shit won an academy award, so how stupid can it be? Why end the article this way? Well, because the idea for it came to me while standing in a check outline and reading Housewife Magazine, and I wanted to conclude on a super manly note. Good luck, and remember to put hydrogen peroxide on your nipples after you come down off the pole. You don’t want to get a nasty infection.

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BEAU BAKER

 

RECORD: 8-3
KEY VICTORIES: Tommy Speer and Mario Stapel

 

KYLE BAKER

 

RECORD: 8-4
KEY VICTORIES: Drew Fickett and Chad Reiner

 

Mixed martial arts’ version of the Fabulous Baker Boys may better be coined the Bruising Baker Brothers.

 

Beau and younger brother Kyle have taken stellar backgrounds in amateur wrestling and parlayed them into successful careers in the cage, forging a brutal style that is difficult for opponents to deal with.

 

Fighting out their own MMA Institute in Harrisburg, Virginia, their MMA roots actually stem from rather humble beginnings just a few short years ago.

 

“Five years away from college wrestling competition left me needing something to fill the void of one-on-one combat. The easy choice was MMA. The hard part was finding a place to do it,” Beau told MMAWeekly.com. “Two hours away from the closest BJJ gym, let alone MMA gym, I turned to my younger brother Kyle, a fellow Virginia State wrestling champion.”

 

From there, the two forged their path the cage, using hard work and perseverance as a guide.

 

“We started off on a pair of old mattresses in Kyle’s basement, learning submission grappling from an Eddie Bravo book and the Bas Rutten instructional DVDs,” says Beau.

 

Three years later, the two brothers had their own gym, the a fore mentioned MMA Institute, with more than 6,000 square feet of space, numerous members, and an ever-expanding roster of fighters who continue to rack up wins under the guidance of the two former wrestling champions.

 

Along the way, the two have managed their own successes in the cage.

 

Like many former wrestlers, the Baker brothers use their wrestling skills effectively in the cage, controlling opponents and keeping the fight where they want it. Both are dominating fighters from the clinch, wearing on opponents who try to stand with them.

 

When watching the brothers fight, the difference you might notice is that Beau is more apt to take a fighter to the mat for the finish. He’ll punish guys while standing, softening them up from the clinch, but Beau has a knack for arm bars and chokes.

 

Kyle, by contrast, seems to take a perverse pleasure in annihilating opponents on the feet. Like Beau, he likes to control opponents from the clinch, but instead of softening them up for a submission on the mat, Kyle tends to brutalize opponents with his dirty boxing and sidesplitting knees to the body.

 

With roughly three years of professional experience under their belts, the Baker boys have gradually worked their way up the ranks fighting for such respectable promotions as the Ultimate Warrior Challenge (UWC) in the Washington, D.C. area and Shine Fights.

 

Of course, as for almost any mixed martial artist, the ultimate goal is the bigger stages of the sport such as the UFC… and neither should be far off the radar.

 

Amongst Beau’s victories are The Ultimate Fighter finalist Tommy Speer and German champion Mario Stapel. He stumbled late last year against Bellator veteran Jacob McClintock, but bounced back with a win over Ran Weathers earlier this year. He has won three of his last four.

 

Kyle, however, is probably a step closer than Beau in moving up the ranks. He faltered early last year against UFC veteran Brian Foster, but that’s his only loss in his eight most recent fights. He can also boast wins over Chad Reiner and Drew Fickett, both UFC veterans.

 

Both Bakers have the necessary attributes to compete at the highest levels of the sport and are used the hard work and effort it takes to be successful there. They carry with them the fortitude of having built their careers their own way, relying only on each other and their burgeoning team of fighters.

 

All it should take at this point is stringing a couple of wins together against name opponents and it’s likely we’ll see both brutalizing opponents in front of worldwide audiences.

 

ALEX SOTO

 

RECORD: 4-0
KEY VICTORY: Henry Briones

 

Many young people go to Mexico to party, hoping for an epic story of drunken debauchery. Alex Soto went in the opposite direction. Born and raised in the border town of Tijuana, Soto was happy when his family legally immigrated to the United States for more opportunities.

 

Soto joined the Army so he could giveback to his adopted country in its time of need after 9-11. Not only that, Soto volunteered for the 25th Infantry Division’s elite Long Range Surveillance Detachment and spent a year in Afghanistan doing the things he can’t tell you about without killing you.

 

After the Army, Soto got into MMA because he was a mini Randy Couture: a wrestler with a natural penchant for striking. The striking started in junior high school when he got into 10 fights with 10 different kids—one after the other—so they would leave his cousin alone. He went 10-0.

 

“You could say I come from a boxing background,” Soto says. “But that’s not enough anymore. These days, even at my level, you have to know all aspects of MMA or you will get your ass handed to you.”

 

That level is still the lower reaches of MMA, but Soto is quickly making a name for himself in the Southern California/ Mexican featherweight circles. On April 22, he captured the Ultimate Warrior Challenge Mexico 145-pound title with a TKO win over Rafael Salomao.

 

Though he considers himself a grappler, Soto can stand in the pocket and trade strikes. He also has a Clay Guida chin and Frankie Edgar cardio to go the distance. Prior to his featherweight title fight, Soto defeated Henry “El Bure” Briones in a nonstop fury of strikes that didn’t slow down for 15 minutes.

 

“He’s an experienced fighter who tested my heart and chin.” Soto says. “It was not only tough because he was an old training partner but also because the Mexico crowd loved him. But when the fight ended, I won the crowd over and got the decision.”

 

Standing and banging can only get you so far in this rapidly evolving sport, so Soto’s maturity might be what separates him from the other featherweights with their eyes on the WEC. He fights beyond his 26 years with a clarity and calmness that his opponents find unsettling, which is hardly surprising when you consider his real combat experience in Afghanistan.

 

“The most important lesson I have learned is to remain calm before and during the fight,” he says. “Fighting with a clear, focused mind is very hard to do and it’s something that I have managed to control as I’ve had more fights.”

 

Away from MMA, Soto continues to serve his country by training dolphins in search and rescue operations for the U.S.Navy.


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Webster is a total freakin’ idiot, and I say that with complete and utter certainty. In his  world-famous reference manual, which can be found in every library on the planet, that sonofabitch actually had the gall to define training as, among other things, “the action or method of preparing someone for an athletic contest; the process by which one is made proficient or qualified.” Yeah, right! As far as I’m concerned, that longwinded gobbledygook can be tossed out in favor of a kiss-simple, three-word summation: absolute fucking torture.

Funny thing is, (or sad, depending on how you look at it) I haven’t even exposed myself to any real mixed martial arts or fight-specifi c tutelage yet – at least, not in terms of live-action instruction. It’s far too early for that. The way I see it, my situation closely resembles that of a world-class chef preparing his signature steak. The selected piece of meat needs to be properly tenderized, marinated, and seasoned long before being subjected to the flame. Well in this case, I am that aforementioned piece of meat and it appears as if I’m on an unswerving collision course with the flame. And as much as

I hate to admit it, I’m already starting to feel the heat.

Of paramount importance is getting my body in the proper shape – or, at the very least, some semblance of shape – not just to survive my eventual pro MMA bout, but also emerge victorious. But at the moment, the form I see every time I stare into a full-length mirror (or whenever I review one of my daily submissions to www.youporn.com) is somewhere along the lines of a quadrilateral or one of those dodecahedrons. Alas, all is not lost. Because beneath the corpulent surface of this established literary mercenary lurks a fairly decent athlete – at least, that’s what some agent from the NSA wrote in my secure file. The glaring problem I’m facing is that I’m not quite sure just how many layers of debauchery and decadence my former self is buried beneath. Like it or not, in order to properly pull off this op, it appears as if I’m gonna have to go deep.

Some of the suffering I’m whining about is most assuredly the result of my age. It’s that whole “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thing. And at 37, my body just doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to. While Father Time has been relatively kind to me over the years, leaving me capable of handling just about any physical task within reason, the arduous process of prepping myself for structured, hand-to-hand, close-quarters-combat is truly a horse of another color. Much to my dismay, the local vitamin shack doesn’t offer a powder or a pill to instantaneously achieve the desired results; trust me, I checked. Sure, I could pay a visit to a little-known false-door laboratory that’s rumored to be frequented by a bevy of NFLers, a fair amount of MLBers, and a track athlete or two but, c’mon, seriously, what fun would that be? And besides, how the hell am I gonna skate through the post-fight blood test? Just ask ex-pro wide receiver Johnnie Morton about that one. He got his head handed to him in his MMA debut and then got his ass kicked by the tox-screeners at the hospital, which, in all probability, will see him banned from the sport. Bottom line: there is no shortcut. Blood, sweat, and tears, baby!

And therein lies the rub.

These days, 30 minutes of stretching is akin to 30 hours on a medieval torture rack. And at the end of an extended weight session, my muscles are seriously considering fi ling assault charges. In fact, I think my lats and pecs may already have chipped in on a bounty on my head. If out of the blue I happen to drop stone cold dead with no obvious explanation as to the cause, at least the detectives will have a lead on the likely culprits. That brings me to the state of my cardiovascular condition. Man, I’m still trying to figure out exactly how much my heart can take before it simply explodes. I’d bet a jigger of Don Julio that a senior citizen kickball team has more endurance than I do right now.

But give me time. I’ll get there. I’m not taking this challenge lightly. When I eventually step into the cage – or get thrown in, depending on how hard I resist – whoever is standing across from me had better be ready to throw down – a white towel preferably. Win or lose, I have no intention of embarrassing myself. I’ll be coming to fight and bringing my A-game (if it looks more like a Z, that’s just because I’m a writer with horrible penmanship); my eventual opponent would be wise to remember that. Whoever he is, I hope he’s cool with bribes. And if not, maybe the ref can be bought. Perhaps ex-NBA official Tim Donaghy will still be looking for a new gig, (Hey Tim, if you’re reading this, I may not be able to match the funds you routinely received for tainting pro hoops games, but I’ll definitely make you an attractive offer.)

To fully understand exactly what I was getting myself into, I decided it’d be best to go and check out some MMA events live, in the flesh. Prior to the start of this vision quest, I had only seen MMA on television or pay-per-view. Let me tell you, seeing the extreme action up close and personal is so insanely different from watching it on a screen that it makes you appreciate the difficulty of the sport and the dedication of its participants a zillion times more. My first observation: Holy fuckin’ shit, the fighters are fast! Punches, kicks, knees, throws, chokes – even the slow maneuvers are carried out with deceptive speed. And then there are the impacts – goddamn they’re loud! Even with synthesizers and a fully equipped, multi-million-dollar soundstage at their disposal, Foley artists (the folks who simulate the sounds of kicks and punches connecting, among other things, in movies and on television) simply can’t compare to the real deal.

Since I was in Phoenix, Arizona, working on a story for another publication (you’ve all heard of Bluff Magazine), I headed over to the Celebrity Theatre for Rage in the Cage (www.rageinthecage.com). Promoted by Roland Sarria, also the owner and head instructor at the RITC Training Center (www.ritctrainingcenter.com), I was truly impressed with the level of expertise and professionalism that all the fighters displayed. Every bout was highly competitive and loaded with full-tilt, non-stop action. Even the amateur fi ghts, which did not allow closed-fist strikes to the head, were still high-octane conflicts that kept the audience on their feet for their duration.

Prior to the first bout, I had the good fortune of chatting with six-time world champion Rick “The Jet” Roufus, in attendance to corner for one of his students in a Muay Thai fight. Unquestionably the most famous American kick-boxer ever, now 40, Rick’s body looks like a fleshcovered steel battering ram and his eyes showcase the identical ultra-intense gleam from the days when he was knocking out his opponents within the first minute of the first round – a feat he can still pull off.

Hoping to garner some solid advice from a man who has seen more hardcore ring time than just about any professional fighter alive, I asked The Jet if there was one factor above all else that he could cite for his incredible success. His response was immediate: “Discipline. In life, in training, and in the ring.” Rick went on to say that he was living the dream and it all boiled down to his unfl appable work ethic, eye-on-the-prize mindset, and the fact that he always fought t
he best there was, without exception. When our impromptu Q & A was complete, I made a mental note to drop by his Tempe-based school (www.roufuskickboxingcenter.com) at some point in the near future. If I was going to build up my pugilistic arsenal, Rick Roufus seemed like a pretty solid guy to learn from.

Next came UFC 71 in Sin City, and the highly anticipated match-up between challenger Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and the then-current light heavyweight champion of the world, Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell. Mixed martial arts had experienced a nuclear algae bloom level of growth as of late, and Liddell had become the unofficial poster boy during that stratospheric surge. His picture was everywhere, and the list of requests for his presence was longer than the line in front of Pamela Anderson’s kissing booth. Heck, Liddell even did a cameo on an episode of HBO’s hit series Entourage.

But before the main event, there was some incredible action in the preliminary bouts. Karo “The Heat” Parisyan won a three-round unanimous decision over Josh “The People’s Warrior” Burkman, courtesy of his flawless Judo skills and a no-quit motor. Watching Karo work provided me with kick-in-the-nuts proof that the fighters competing in MMA’s upperechelon events had spent years training at the highest level. No way could I possibly amass that kind of expertise in such a short time. My only hope was to learn a few solid techniques (both offensive and defensive) and master them as best I could. The way I figured it, even a one-trick pony could still dole out a helluva kick.

Another under-card match, Houston “The Assassin” Alexander versus Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine, looked like it was going to be an all-out war. That is, until the fight began. Less than fifty seconds later, the heavily favored Jardine was on Queer Street, trying to get the license plate of the truck that had flattened him like a Redwood falling on a snail. Alexander’s potent combination of speed and strength quickly overwhelmed the highly regarded UFC veteran, quickly dispelling the myth that a pedigreed name is more important than ferocious determination.

Interestingly enough, that fight set a precedent for the bout the world had been waiting for. Many in attendance, along with the vast majority of MMA pundits, believed that the Iceman’s superior octagon experience and sledgehammer fists would make short work of the far less heralded Rampage. As it turned out, the looking glass all those prognosticators were peering into must have been turned upside down. For two minutes into the first round, Rampage completely melted the Iceman with a barrage of blows that could have stopped a Mack truck, let alone a flesh-and-bone, upright-walking life form. Liddell is a tough guy, a fact no one will ever dispute, but on that night, Quinton Jackson was a man on a mission not to be denied what he believed was rightfully his – that being the UFC light heavyweight crown. Quinton’s upset win gave me hope. Maybe, just maybe, steadfast resolution and total belief in one’s self was all I would need to prevail.

Chances are I would still need a lot of help.

Amazingly, help was on its way. Apparently, my self-imposed challenge had already attracted a fair amount of attention. Sponsors from far and wide were reaching out to me, offering all forms of assistance. Either they truly believed in my cause or they just wanted some decent PR if and when I got my brains beat in. Either way, I was grateful for the assistance. At this point, I’d happily accept any lifeline thrown my way.

Suunto (www.suunto.com) sent me an ultra-high-tech T4 heart-rate monitoring watch along with a speed-and-distance-sensing foot pod to help me achieve cardiovascular supremacy. Although the timepiece is easily smarter than I am and slightly more complex than Melania Knauss-Trump’s pre-nuptial agreement, after only few minutes I figured out how to operate all of its many functions and was well on my way to a higher state of fitness.

Two different limousine services offered me free luxury transportation to and from the gym and/or dojo, allowing me the opportunity to push myself to the edge without the fear of being too exhausted to drive home. I haven’t selected one of the companies yet; if and when I do they will certainly be mentioned.

Paladin Press (www.paladin-press.com), “Home of the Action Library,” sent me a quartet of DVDs as a precursor to my combat training. Mark Hatmaker’s Submission Encyclopedia Volume I is filled with effective submission techniques. Considering that I currently don’t know any, this was a welcome gift. Also by Hatmaker – a lifelong student of the martial arts widely known as “The Professor of Grappling” – are the ABC’s of NHB: High-Speed Training for No-Holds- Barred Fighting, Volumes 1, 2 and 3. This set will provide me with an extensive array of extreme boxing chain drills, shoot and takedown progressions, and plenty of additional grappling and submission progressions.

Turtle Press (www.turtlepress.com), one of the best martial arts reference resources around, also sent me a slew of material. On DVD, they sent Jujitsu 1 and Jujitsu 2 by former SWAT team member and law enforcement instructor James Kodzis, and Championship Sambo by world-renowned Sambo coach Steve Scott. The books included two more Steve Scott titles: The Grappler’s Book of Strangles and Chokes and the Armlock Encyclopedia. At the very least, when someone slaps a painful hold or suffocating choke on me, I’ll know exactly what it is. A third volume, Boxing: The American Martial Art, by former amateur champion and Sarasota, Florida boxing school owner R. Michael Onello, should do wonders for my stand-up, although I’m still confident my fight’s sanctioning board will grant me permission to bring a 2×4 into the cage. Hey, The Rock got to use one— why not me?

And finally, Fight Resource (www.fightresource.com), the online mixed martial arts directory, was kind enough to ship me the voluminous, end-all manuscript for ground game combat, 1001 Submissions, written by David Roy and Kirk Jenness. Featuring over 850 pages and more than 6,000 photographs detailing submission techniques from Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Judo, Sambo, submission grappling, and more, if this book can’t help improve my ground game, then I’m really fucked!

So, where am I going with all this? Downhill, quickly.

No, seriously, calls are already out to Danny Bonaduce’s people, trying to set up a fight. I figure the possibility of getting my ass kicked by Danny friggin’ Partridge should motivate me to a higher level. Granted, Danny is a seasoned kick-boxer and he may or may not be on synthetic juice (along with a host of other substances, by his own admission, of course) but that’s the chance I take. So c’mon, you Burger King-lookin’ airwave assassin, nut up and throw down with me.

If anybody out there has any suggestions or ideas, I’m more than happy to listen. Email me at ASlutsky@FightMagazine.com. Fight challenges, training tips, nickname suggestions, c’mon people, don’t hold back. Hit me with everything you’ve got. Now all I have to do is survive the training!

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I’d like to thank the Academy and welcome you to the 29th Annual (May)Hemmy Awards. These MMA awards are totally unbiased and look past the “big three” letters that dominate MMA in America, and take a serious and stern look at the sport that we all love. Ok, that’s a bunch of crap. This is a made-up award show that takes place in my head, which no one, except you the reader, gets to attend. So put your goddamn rented tux on and hope that they washed the staph infection out of it from the last fighter who wore it back in 2009. Pull up in your stretch hummer limo and plop your flip-flops out on the red carpet. You have to rush by the paparazzi and wave quickly, because you are late for the 2009 Hemmys!

INNOVATION HEMMY

Hands down, Shinya Aoki. I love the Japanese mode of thinking. It’s what makes products invented in America so much better once they are stolen and made by the Japanese. Sure, you could probably wear some gi pants in a mixed martial arts fight like Eddie Bravo would have you think, but you’d have to be smoking a ton of weed to not notice the obvious shortcomings of this strategy. Aoki did the research: I use my guard, how will I make it grip better? PANTS! But what about them grabbing on the pants? SKIN TIGHT! What about ankle locks? CAPRI PANTS! What about them being unfashionable? NEON COLORS! Congrats Crazy Pants.

VILLAIN OF THE YEAR HEMMY

Roy Nelson was on The Ultimate Fighter with Kimbo Slice. Kimbo is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. This man is a legendary street fighter. The way I learned of him is purely from the famous Web video— the backyard street fight with the metal thing and the eyeball popping out of the guy’s head at the end, and the “Let me get my bread” tagline. Roy Nelson has a giant belly, was annoying on the show, and made you want to change the channel. Nelson beat our legend—and along with his detestable personality—he earns the Villain of the Year Award.

Zombie Hemmy

2009’s Hemmy Award winner for excellence in coming back from the dead goes to Kimo Leopoldo, who was pronounced dead on the Internet by infamous online troll and Midwest Champion of the World, Beau Taylor, also known by the moniker “OMA.” Taylor scored the troll of a lifetime by convincing the Internet junkies—and then the highly respected news organization TMZ—that Kimo was dead. Taylor was outed when it was revealed that Kimo was actually a zombie, and has been since early 2007 when he was bit by Stephan Quadros.

Short-Lived Ring Card Girls Hemmy

The highly coveted award for the fastest turnover on ring card girls goes to (drum roll please…) the blond that looked about 17 and the one with giant boobs—I read that she was an escort or something. Goodbye eye candies, we barely knew ye. I’m not sure what these women did—or didn’t do (ahem)—to lose their jobs. Perhaps they didn’t test well with the audience, maybe they had an attitude, maybe they weren’t using Xience, or possibly they were just victims of a terrible economy, but they were turned over faster than a day laborer outside of Home Depot. The only woman in MMA with some amount of job security is Arianny Celeste, who can blow a kiss after she sits down like no other person on earth. Boing.

Oh Snap, It’s Serious Hemmy

This Hemmy is awarded to the person or group that emerged into the world of MMA in a “serious” fashion. The group to shock the MMA world goes to the Strikeforce organization. Before this year, there were some fly-by-night companies scraping together leftover UFC talent to throw together shows around the country, only to quickly fold when things got tough. Enter Strikeforce’s marriage with CBS, add in a dash of Fedor, and a dollop of the Bully Beatdown guy, and then later you get one of the most exciting cards ever (December’s SF from San Jose) headlined by Josh Thompson vs. Gilbert Melendez. BAM! You’ve got yourself a serious contender to the UFC.

GODDAMN HE’S GOOD HEMMY

Anderson Silva. Ok, Jesus, you’re awesome. Like ridiculously awesome. You know how to do everything well, and you keep beating everyone, and if it weren’t for translator/ manager Ed Soares explaining what you were saying, we’d think you were just telling everyone that you suck in helium between rounds to give yourself super, Matrix-like fighting abilities. Fantastic showing in 2009, and the best part about having such a good year is that it makes it all that much more exciting to see who can oust Anderson from his mighty throne. Watch this category next year.

REF DISTRACTION HEMMY

This year’s category was stacked. There was a referee that look emaciated and sickly, Japanese ref Uji Shimada was especially jerky all of 2009, Herb Dean’s dreadlocks were more flowing than they were in 2008, making for the most stacked category ever. In the final hours of judging it came down to two: The frontrunner was the colorful tattoos and bulging muscles of Dan Miragliotta, but by a hair it came down to (drum roll please) Steve Mazzagatti’s moustache! What’s that? Oh, he’s not here to accept the award? Hibernating until the spring? Very well, here to accept the award in his place is Mario Yamasaki’s flattop.

SECOND BEST ENTRANCE HEMMY

This year’s Second Best Entrance Hemmy had some great entrants, including Gono’s Japanese weird crap and Machida fire breathing and piss drinking with two dancing dragons and sword jugglers with ninjas throwing stars at targets in the 14th row. Didn’t happen? Shit, my subconscious is leaking into my articles again. Anyway, the award goes to King Mo in Sengoku. Yeah, I know, I train with him, but the judging was unbiased. Why is it the award for the second best entrance? Because I can’t give myself an award in my own article, and I had the best entrance of 2009 in Strikeforce.

SPECIAL AWARD FOR THE MOST OVERDUE ARTICLE OF 2009

This award is given once a year—extremely deep into the first quarter of the year—to the artist that decided to do an award article in January, forced into it by his editors, made to write an article he thought was too late to write, but stuck to his guns and powered through. Can I have the envelope … and the award goes to … Mayhem Miller for his “Hemmy Awards” article! Yay! I jump up and down with joy and hug the other nominees, the people from Bully Beatdown, and my manager Ryan Parsons. Tracy Lee takes a crap picture of me that she tags on Facebook later, and I run to the front to give my acceptance speech, and then you reread this article as the acceptance speech. You’re welcome.

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It’s been said with no small dose of historical certainty that champions in fighting and star players in other sports have the ability to slow things down. Geelong, Australia native George Sotiropoulos has proven this ability in the Octagon. He’s not the champion of the lightweight division (yet), but there’s something in his focus that gives him the ability to treat pockets of regular time timelessly, similar to a man who’s been choked unconscious having whole dreams in the three seconds he’s out.

 

Think it’s bullocks?

 

You remember when Sots ate Kurt Pellegrino’s knee late in his bout at UFC 116, and for a split second it looked like the tables were turning? Sotiropoulos describes that split second like an entire event took place, like a football coach who sees everything at once upon the snap of the ball.

 

“The knee stunned me, and it just sent me off balance,” he says. “And then Pellegrino threw an overhand right, and it didn’t connect fully, but it connected with my body or the top of my head. But as I descended to the mat, I was really recovering position because I knew the next position I was at would be side control, as he was in position to take that.With the angle, I couldn’t put him in guard because of the way I was falling. I knew I could basically start escaping, and I initiated my escape as I hit the mat. That’s because I was really within my senses and I was able to recover position and get back to my feet, and that pretty much summed it up.”

 

Presence of mind can be preached, but not taught. Sotiropoulos has it, and it’s one of the reasons he’s 13-2 as a professional fighter and, remarkably, 6-0in the UFC, with wins over Pellegrino, Joe Stevenson, and Jason Dent. One of his official losses was a disqualification (groin shot) against Shinya Aokiin a Shooto event nearly four years ago. The other defeat was a razor thin decision against Kyle Noke early in his career. Sots is a picture of immense, humorless focus. As one of his jiu-jitsu trainer’s, Eddie Bravo has said, “I have never seen a guy as focused as George—he is absolutely no nonsense when he comes to 10th Planet.”

 

That’s true, and another thing—there’s nothing superfluous about Sots either. His “natural drive” for mixed martial arts verges on obsession. Him fighting and beating Stevenson in his homeland at UFC 110 in Sydney was only important because he beat Joe Daddy. He won. Take that away and it would all mean nothing. Being in Australia in front of family and friends was nice, but besides the point.

 

“I’m doing my thing and am really focused on what I’m doing, and everything else is pretty much irrelevant,” the 33-year-old says. “The names or the event or the place or the crowd or the advantages or disadvantages—all those things don’t really matter. The thing that matters is the fight, when you get in that cage and the door closes and you hear that clink of the steel…that’s it. Nobody is fighting alongside you—you’re in there by yourself.”

 

As Sots prepares for his next bout against Joe Lauzon on November 20 in Auburn Hills, Michigan, it starts to look like a silent, calculated warpath he’s blazing. Another strong showing and it might be inevitable that he gets his chance at the lightweights trap. Sots is ready right now. He’s about as wellrounded as they come. Asked if he would fight for the title today if he was given the chance, he doesn’t hesitate. And then again, he wouldn’t hesitate if you paired him against a guy on the cusp of being cut from the promotion.

 

“Yeah, I would fight for the belt right now,” he says. “And I accept the challenge, because, look, you can’t pick who you’re going to fight. You should fight anybody, that’s the bottom line. There are people who have the luxury of picking their fights or their managers pick fights, and it shouldn’t be that way. Fighting is about fighting, not choosing a fight. And that’s my philosophy on fighting—I’ll fight anyone, no matter who they are.”

 

Spoken like a man who knows his bearings well.

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Having covered mixed martial arts full-time since2003, I’ve spent plenty of time in gyms, although that hasn’t helped my fight game much. I have visited the cavernous, 2,000-square-foot state of-the-art training centers, and I’ve been in the 200-square-foot non-air conditioned garages that technically can be called a “gym” because there happens to be a ring and mats present.

 

Both facilities have there own histories, allure, and stories.

 

The idea for me to travel throughout the country to explore the nation’s MMA gyms for HDNet came from Mark Cuban—as most brilliant ideas do—and I was excited to be able to chronicle what truly makes a gym special. Beyond the physical equipment, there is a spirit and soul to a true gym.

 

Inside MMA and FIGHT! Magazine will take you Inside America’s Gyms, previewing some of the finest gyms in the country. Tune in to HDNet for the rest of the story, and visitwww.hd.net/insidemma.html for more info.

 

Xtreme Couture

Location: Las Vegas, Nevada
Founders/Owners: Randy Couture, Kim Couture, Valerie and Scott Haney

 

Fighters Who Train at XC

 

• Randy Couture: Former UFC Heavyweight/Light Heavyweight Champ
• Forrest Griffin: Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champ
• Ray Sefo: K-1/Five-Time Muay Thai World Champion
• Gray Maynard: UFC Lightweight
• Jay Hieron: Former IFL Welterweight Champ
• Martin Kampmann: UFC Welterweight
• Tyson Griffin: UFC Lightweight

 

What You Don’t Know

 

• There is only one “facility” in the 11,000 square foot complex. “After 30 guys pump themselves up with protein shakes—it’s just gross.”—Forrest Griffin
• Xtreme Couture offers discounts to servicemen and women.

 

What Separates XC From Everyone Else?

 

“This is Vegas, the epicenter for the sport. So we have a lot of the best fighters in the world who not only live here, but also travel through here.”—Randy Couture

 

Grudge Training Center

Location: Wheat Ridge,
CO Founder/Owner: Trevor Wittman

 

Fighters Who Train at Grudge

 

• George St-Pierre: UFC Welterweight Champ
• Rashad Evans: Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champ
• Shane Carwin: UFC Heavyweight
• Nate Marquardt: Seven-Time King of Pancrase/UFC Middleweight
• Brendan Schaub: UFC Heavyweight
• James McSweeney: UFC Heavyweight
• Duane Ludwig: Former K-1 Champ

 

What You Don’t Know

 

• Grudge Training Center is in alliance with Jackson’s Submission Fighting in Albuquerque, New Mexico, exchanging fighters and knowledge.
• There is a focus on family at Grudge. On any given day, fighters’ wives, girlfriends, and kids will be there hanging out.

 

What Separates Grudge From Everyone Else?

 

“All the fighters we bring in and all the coaches—that’s what separates us.”—Trevor Wittman

 

Jackson’s SubmissionFighting

Location: Albuquerque, New Mexico
Founder/Owner: Greg Jackson

 

Fighters Who Train at Jackson’s

 

• Rashad Evans: Former UFC Light Heavyweight Champ
• Jon Jones: UFC Light Heavyweight
• Brian Stann: UFC Middleweight
• Keith Jardine: Shark Fights Light Heavyweight
• Joey Villasenor: PRIDE/King of the Cage veteran
• Joe Stevenson: UFC Lightweight
• Diego Sanchez: UFC Welterweight
• Leonard Garcia: WEC Featherweight
• Donald Cerrone: WEC Lightweight

 

What You Don’t Know

 

• Jackson’s operates without fighter contracts, so they are free to come and go without having to deal with long-term financial gym contracts.

 

What Separates Jackson’s From Everyone Else?

 

“Jackson’s has the world’s most handsome coach. He could have gone with G.Q., but he gave up his modeling career to train fighters.”—Greg Jackson

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Nearly every MMA fighter, fan, and pundit has played the role of matchmaker. Before, after, and during every fight, message boards and social media outlets light up with opinions on who should fight who next. While it’s fun to play the role, very few—if any—of these keyboard warriors have an idea of just how difficult and involved the job is.

Match GameFormer Strikeforce matchmaker Rich Chou—now with Pro Elite 2.0—and Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney have been involved in MMA for years, gaining an intimate knowledge of how large organizations determine their matchups.

While with Strikeforce, Chou set up a four-step matchmaking process that was based on excitement, financial logistics, ratings, and relevancy. First and foremost, Chou wanted two fighters who would put on an exciting fight that fans would look forward to seeing. Next, he wanted to know if those same fans would be willing to buy tickets to the event, and if they weren’t local, would the fight make for good TV, regardless of whether it were pay-per-view or broadcast television. Finally, would the winning fighter move up the ladder toward title contention?

Sometimes, this calculated process came together as planned, while other times, the recipe turned out to be a dud. A fight can excite fans locally, but that doesn’t always resonate on television. The goal for Chou was always the same—to nail all four scenariosand provide compelling, exciting match-ups.

Bellator handles its matchmaking duties differently because of the tournament format it utilizes. Rebney and talent relations director Sam Caplan choose nine fighters (eight main competitors and one alternate) from a pool of 100 to 150 potential participants, per each of seven different weight classes, for various eight-person tourneys. When the organization first started, they were in the position of having to pitch fighters to be involved in their tournaments. Now, with an MTV2 deal and impending
move to Spike TV in 2013, they are inundated with requests from fighters looking for their opportunity.

Match GameCaplan and his talent development team look over hours of fight footage. The team then narrows the field down to approximately 20 fighters. Once they are down to nine, they rank them in order—a process very similar to the most famous tournament in sports.

“You can compare it to how March Madness works for the NCAA basketball tournament,” Rebney says. Since day one, we have tried to be as objective about this as possible. It makes sense to have the number one seed fight number eight, two fights seven, and down the line we go. When you come into the tournament, the best fighter going in has earned the right to not have the most difficult fight coming out of the box. The good thing about the format is, it’s only three fights, and if you’re the best, you are more than likely going to make it to the finals. Sam and I try to stay away from a typical matchmaking standpoint and do not match these guys up because we personally believe it would be a great fight. Those fights will come to fruition at one point or another.”

During his time with Strikeforce, Chou made use of internal and external ranking systems. The internal system was relied upon to monitor fighters who were in contention for a shot at a championship. Title fights weren’t awarded based on popularity—they had to be earned. With external rankings, Chou says that they did look at outside influences, more so to see where certain fighters were ranked compared to their own rankings.

Rebney and his team take advantage of every conceivable piece of objective data they can find, which includes external rankings, along with data that his staff compiles. When viewing outside influences, they generally look at fighters ranked in the top 50. Rebney was eager to stress that there were times when some fighters weren’t ranked as high, but when they took a deeper look at their overall résumé, a determination was made to bring that fighter on board. One example Rebney gave was Brian Rogers, a talented and explosive athlete as a football player in college, who began dabbling in MMA to keep his competitive juices flowing. Rogers was thrown into the fire well before he was ready, but it was apparent that his ability was there.

Another source that Chou and Rebney both utilize is social media. Both men consider YouTube to be one of their best recruiting tools, because they have the ability to view footage of fighters from all over the world, whether it’s in the middle of Brazil or
the deepest regions of Siberia. Twitter and Facebook have allowed fans to send in links and information on fighters they normally would never have access to.

“I can’t stress enough how much influence fans’ opinion and feedback have on any organization,” Chou says. “It’s all about the fans. When we sit down, we are always looking to make the fans happy. The number one goal is to sign fights that will have the fans thinking to themselves, ‘Holy shit, that’s one hell of a fight on one hell of a card.’”

Rebney echoed Chou’s sentiments while discussing Bellator’s fan base, pointing out just how powerful social media is. Fighters and fans have an opportunity to interact, thus giving fans a real opportunity to have their voices heard. As matchmakers, Rebney and Chou are constantly looking at what the fans are saying about the fighters, the in-arena experience, and how the event came off on television. Arguably, fans are engaged in mixed martial arts more so than any other sport.

One problem that Bellator faces, which other organizations don’t have to worry about, is in keeping their champions busy while waiting for the tournament outcome. According to Rebney, it’s the one weak point that they’ve been confronted with. Booking their champions in non-title fights allows those fighters to remain active, but they also run the risk of losing—something that happened in 2011 when Travis Wiuff defeated Bellator Light Heavyweight Champion Christian M’Pumbu. In addition, Rebney has allowed many of his fighters, including Eddie Alvarez and Eduardo Dantas, to take bouts outside of Bellator. It’s a risky venture that can backfire—like in August, when Bellator Bantamweight Champion Dantas got knocked at Shooto Brazil 33 by Tyson Nam. Rebney is confident, though, that as Bellator transitions to Spike, they will hold more tournaments—eliminating the need for non-title affairs and bouts outside of their organization—that will allow their champions to defend their titles a minimum of two times per year.

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Anderson Silva has taken on some of the most talented fighters of his time, even knocking out one of the longest-reigning champions on his way to the belt. Unfortunately, the debate over whether or not Silva is the greatest middleweight of all-time can’t be decided because, after all, he can’t fight the champions of decades past. Or can he?

In this segment, FIGHT! approached three of the most renowned trainers in the sport: Greg Jackson of Greg Jackson’s Submission Fighting, Robert Follis of Team Quest, and Pat Miletich of Miletich Fighting Systems. Each has worked with numerous champions throughout the years, they’ve seen more fighters come and go than we can count, and they certainly aren’t shy about their opinions.

We asked each trainer how the fight would go if the legend were in his prime and the modern superstar was in his current state. They were asked to pick a winner and shed some insight as to why the fight would progress as their expert opinions saw it.

PAT MILETICH VS. GEORGES ST. PIERRE

Greg Jackson: I have to go with GSP. He’s incredibly strong, he’s technical, he’s an amazing athlete, and he’s one of my guys.

Robert Follis: GSP’s style is so strong and he can control where the fight would go. He can control the wrestling and he’s so athletic. If you take the fight back to Miletich’s day, I think it’s a different look.

Pat Miletich: Tough fight. That’s a toss up. Georges is a great athlete, well balanced like I was, so I can’t decide.

Verdict: Despite Miletich humbly calling a draw in his own bout (even after being pressed three times), the decision goes to St. Pierre on account of his strength and technical prowess. Georges St. Pierre 2-0.

ROYCE GRACIE VS. BJ PENN

GJ: I would say BJ Penn wins it because he’s got much better stand up and his Jiu-Jitsu is better.

RF: BJ Penn for sure. He is too much. When he’s in shape, he’s a nightmare for anyone at any weight class. The way he trains, his stand up, how hard he is to take down, he would win easily.

PM: BJ Penn is too well rounded; he’s too good an athlete. He’d win.

Verdict: A clean sweep for BJ, who the experts see as being one of the most unstoppable and purely talented fighters in the game. Whether standing up or on the ground, the consensus is that BJ could handle it. BJ Penn 3-0.

DAN SEVERN VS. RANDY COUTURE

GJ: Randy Couture would win because he’s a better wrestler.

RF: Randy’s game is more complete; he’s got a great ability to fight standing up. Randy can work stand up, stop shots, has submission skills.

PM: Randy Couture. He’s a good enough wrestler, better than Severn was, and he’s got better stand up.

Verdict: Another sweep, this time for The Natural, who the experts see as the superior wrestler and the more complete all-around fighter. Considering his career, would you want to bet against Randy? Randy Couture 3-0.

RICKSON GRACIE VS. FRANK SHAMROCK

GJ: Rickson would win because he’s got superior ground skills.

RF: It’s difficult because Rickson didn’t fight the same competition that Frank did. Rickson has this aura of being unbeatable. I’d have to edge Frank Shamrock, because if he kept it standing, he’d kill Rickson. Rickson on the ground poses a great problem, but the fight game has progressed and Frank could keep it standing.

PM: Frank Shamrock because he couldn’t be taken down by Rickson, and when he’s standing up, he’s just better.

Verdict: Our experts seemed to agree that if Frank could keep this fight standing, he would dominate. If he were taken to the ground, however, it would be a different story. Despite this weakness, Follis and Miletich agree that he could avoid ending up in the Gracie’s guard. Frank Shamrock 2-1.

TITO ORTIZ VS. RAMPAGE JACKSON

GJ: Rampage wins because his style matches up well with Tito and his wrestling is solid. He’s got heavy hands too, so the edge in power and wrestling goes to Rampage.

RF: I don’t know that Tito has reached his prime. If Tito was training was correctly, he could hit his prime. If we’re taking what their primes have been, I give it to Rampage.

PM: I’m going to go with Rampage because Rampage hits hard, and Tito doesn’t like getting hit.

Verdict: Even though Follis suggests that Tito hasn’t hit his prime (quite the interesting proposition), all of our experts agree that Rampage’s heavy hands would lead him to the big victory. Rampage Jackson 3-0.

BAS RUTTEN VS. CHUCK LIDDELL

GJ: I’d have to say 50/50 on this one. They’re both great strikers, Bas is good on the ground, but Chuck can get up.

RF: That would be a battle. Bas is probably a little more well rounded, but his wrestling might not be good enough get Chuck down. That’s a coin toss.

PM: Bas Rutten because he’s too well rounded and too accurate of a striker.

Verdict: Only one of our experts was brave enough to weigh in on this bout, but he gave the edge to Rutten on account of his accurate striking. Although two of our experts chose not to pick a winner, all agree that it would be a brutal war. Bas Rutten 1-0.

MIRKO FILIPOVIC VS. BROCK LESNAR

GJ: Cro Cop would win that. He’s the superior striker and he’s got good sprawl.

RF: I would give it to Cro Cop. Give Brock three years and he’s a tough match up. Cro Cop is just too tough.

PM: Brock Lesnar because no one will stop Brock’s take downs. In fi ve years, Brock will have a belt.

Verdict: Cro Cop takes the edge, being the superior striker in his prime. Two of our experts agree that Brock will be a force within a matter of years, but tonight, it goes to the Croatian. Mirko Filipovic 2-1.

WANDERLEI SILVA VS. RAMEAU THIERRY SOKOUDJOU

GJ: I’d have to say 50/50 again. They’re both explosive strikers so whoever lands the big one first would win.

RF: I think Sokoudjou can beat anybody. If you put him in there right now, his athleticism and movement would carry him to the win. If you were to take Sokoudjou from three years from now,
it would be ridiculous. That’s a tough fi ght but Sokoudjou could tear him up.

PM: Sokoudjou. He’s too good of an athlete.

Verdict: In what has to be the most astounding upset of the night, Sokoudjou has won the support of the majority of the panel, thus defeating the most decorated light heavyweight champion in MMA history. They point to his sheer athleticism and explosive striking as reasons for such confidence in the young Sokoudjou. Rameau

Thierry Sokoudjou 2-0.

KAZUSHI SAKURABA VS. ANDERSON SILVA

GJ: Anderson Silva would win due to his striking ability. He just would need to stay off the ground.

RF: Sakuraba is just too crafty. I don’t think Silva would end up TKO-ing him, which is the only way he would win. I’m going with Sakuraba

PM: Sakuraba without a doubt. He was amazing in his prime.

Verdict: Even with Anderson Silva’s recent tear through the UFC, the consensus of our experts is that he’s still no match for Sakuraba in his prime. Sustaining the aura around

“The Gracie Hunter,” the trainers offer little else in their explanations other than “He’s just Sakuraba.” Kazushi Sakuraba 2-1.

 

For this second section, we pitted legends of mixed martial arts against masters of single disciplines. We then asked some of the same trainers to weigh in on the fantasy bout. But, there’s a catch. The master of the single discipline gets a year of complete MMA training at any school he chooses.

 

BRUCE LEE VS. FEDOR EMELIANENKO

GJ: Fedor would win because Bruce Lee is too light.

RF: Bruce Lee is too small. Bruce was a great athlete but part of what made him special is that he was creating MMA. I think with five years training, he could do something, but he’d never be athletic enough to beat Fedor.

PM: Fedor by destruction.

Verdict: The trainers all agree again, giving appropriate respect to the father of MMA, but recognizing that Fedor is too big, too strong, and too good. Pat Miletich even took it upon himself to invent a new way to win a fi ght (apparently, submissions and knockouts are for mere mortals; Fedor wins by destruction). Fedor Emelianenko 3-0.

CHUCK NORRIS VS. CHUCK LIDDELL

GJ: Chuck Liddell would win because Norris is too light.

RF: Liddell. Chuck Norris wouldn’t even come close, even with a year of training.

PM: Chuck Liddell because Norris was a good point fi ghter and a decent kick boxer, but he couldn’t deal with Chuck’s style.

Verdict: Another shut out for the MMA superstar. Despite that the fact that Norris has excellent kick boxing skills, a good amount of BJJ training, a black belt from the Machados, and years of experience selling Bowfl ex machines to late-night TV viewers, our experts chose the heavier and unorthodox Liddell. Chuck Liddell 3-0.

MUHAMMAD ALI VS. ROYCE GRACIE

GJ: Royce would win because he could probably get him down.

RF: Muhammad Ali, with as good of range control as he had, he would win. If you could teach him to stop the takedown, he’d be great.

PM: Muhammad. You’d have to teach him how to stuff a takedown, but he’s a great athlete so he’d be fine.

Verdict: It is fitting that the first single discipline fighter to be awarded a decision is the incomparable Ali. The majority of our experts have him winning with his outstanding range and all expect that he’ll spend the year at their facility learning how to stuff the takedown. His athleticism and pinpoint striking are unlike anything Royce (or any other MMAer) has ever seen. Muhammad Ali 2-1.

MIKE TYSON VS. RAMPAGE JACKSON

GJ: I’d have to say 50/50 because if Mike Tyson connects with 4-ounce gloves, it’s over. But if Rampage can get him on the ground, he would win.

RF: Mike Tyson with a year of learning sprawl and a ground game, he’d be a really tough match up. I’d still go with Quinton because I think he could get it to the ground. Give Tyson two or three years and I change that story.

PM: Rampage Jackson takes this. He’s too strong and he’d be able to take him down.

Verdict: Even though the trainers offer proper deference to Mike Tyson with 4-ounce gloves, they’re confi dent enough to pick Rampage unanimously. So, who wants to tell Mike the bad news? Rampage Jackson 3-0.

0

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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