Names in the Game from the Magazine

Names in the Game from the Magazine

ONE FC is the largest MMA organization in Asia and often draws comparisons to the much beloved PRIDE events—but what is ONE FC really?

Launched just two years ago on July 14, 2011, ONE Fighting Championship is now the most widely recognized MMA promotion in Asia and is gaining global steam. Holding sold-out events in Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Jakarta, and Singapore, ONE FC has expanded rapidly in popularity and has even landed a 10-year contract with ESPN/Star Sports to broadcast their events.

Now, I am as cynical as the rest of the MMA community when it comes to a new organization being hailed as “The Next Big Thing.” The canyon of MMA organization doom is wide, deep, and filled with millions of dollars in wasted funds, broken promises, and unrealized hype. We have seen the mighty fall. Is ONE FC really any different?

In my humble opinion, yes—and for a few key reasons.

1) The Rules for ONE FC create a slightly different product.

ONE FC has augmented the standard MMA Global Rule Set by utilizing both the PRIDE and Nevada Rules that allow for soccer kicks, as well as permitting the use of stomp kicks to the body and legs, and the use of elbows. The knees can be used at any time during the fight, but stomp kicks can never be used against the head.

PRIDE rules can be utilized at any point during the fight—a recent change made to ONE FC rules, which used to call for the referee to signal “Open Attack” before PRIDE rules would apply. The confusion in the application of PRIDE rules led to some controversy during the early ONE FC events, an issue that has now been rectified.

2) The people involved are tremendously knowledgeable.

Victor Cui, the CEO and owner of ONE FC, was also the man behind Martial Combat—another ESPN Star Sports fight promotion. In 2010, Martial Combat delivered 12 events on ESPN Star Sports, in what was described as a “small pilot test project” for what would become ONE FC, after effectively working out some of the kinks.

Another man at the ONE FC helm is MMA pioneer Matt Hume. Matt is the Executive VP of ONE FC and has been a catalyst in the brands success thus far.

3) The business model is unique.

ONE FC has taken a vastly different approach in building their organization—a factor that is key to their unparalleled success in short order. They are embracing the power of leverage and forging strong relationships with gyms, organizations, and sponsors. By creating summits and other efficient meetings of the minds, they have developed great synergies that have enabled them to grow their brand rapidly throughout Asia.

What’s Next?

The next ONE Fighting Championship event is scheduled for September 13, 2013, in Jakarta and features archrivals Yasuhiro Urushitani against Shinichi Kojima in a flyweight world title fight. The rivalry between the two Japanese men is well known, as they fought each other twice previously—both times ending in a draw—when they were part of the Shooto organization.

Given the previous success of ONE Fighting Championship events, the leadership of Victor Cui, and a significant 10-year contract with ESPN Star Sports, there is little doubt that the ONE FC will continue to enjoy success and growth in Asia, and perhaps even start reaching into competitive markets to expand their unique brand of fighting.

Is ONE FC the next PRIDE? No. There will never be another PRIDE. But taking lessons learned from their downfall and maintaining the current course may enable them to be more than PRIDE ever was. Time will tell.

The next ONE Fighting Championship event is scheduled for September 13, 2013, in Jakarta, Indonesia. For more information visit


Salt and pepper. Black and white. Coffee and cream. Day and night. Obviously, some things are just meant to be together. Rarely can you mention one without it overshadowing and smoothly fl owing to the other. And in mixed martial arts, this phenomenon sometimes holds true, too. For seldom can the name “Forrest Griffi n” be uttered to fi ght fans without subconscious synapses followed up with whispers of “Stephan Bonnar.” But can you blame ’em? In what can be regarded as possibly the longest 15-minute stretch in fi ghting history, these two men acted to cooperatively stitch up and repair the sinking ship that was the UFC while simultaneously trying to destroy each other with the same exact passion and energy. But since then—spare the highly touted rematch that sought, and succeeded, to relive such excitement— the duet has seemingly vanished. And whereas Forrest Griffi n has plainly been walking his hard-fought path into the limelight of mainstream MMA, this inevitably begs the question: But where is Stephan Bonnar?

Coming off of a freak knee injury that had him sidelined for months, Stephan Bonnar is actually in closer proximity to his fi gurative MMA soulmate than he’s ever been before, perhaps. “I moved to Vegas, and now we help each other train [at Xtreme Couture],” says Bonnar with regard to Griffi n before continuing on and displaying the engaging wit for which he is famous. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em, right? Now we live and train in the same city.”

Of course, this assumes that Stephan and Forrest were ever really split from each other to begin with, given their special tie that exists within the minds of reminiscing fans—undoubtedly a truth that Stephan has repeatedly experienced. “When people see me, they naturally say, ‘Hey, that was a great fi ght with Forrest.’ At fi rst, it was little awkward because I’d have another fi ght and then another, but even right after a fi ght I just had, people would say, ‘Hey, I really loved your fi ght,’ and I’d say, ‘Oh, yeah, thanks. You mean with Jardine? Oh, you mean that one.’ So now, no matter what fi ght I’m coming off, if someone comes up all excited saying they just loved my fi ght, I know what they’re talking about. I don’t question it anymore.” Clearly, this is one shadow that a fi ghter might not mind being caught under, as it is only further proof of the appreciation that he helped spawn for a sport that is now beloved by millions. But not every shadow is a good thing.

Wishing only to look forward in his continuing career, Bonnar has repeatedly found his attention being twisted around backward, where he is once again forced to face the mistakes he’s made, namely with regard to his stunning steroid charge that dates more than 2 years in the past now. “It’s one of the most frustrating things I’ve dealt with, something that I just can’t seem to get past,” Bonnar says, rightfully displeased. “I’ve talked about it like a million times since it happened, and I’ve paid my dues and I thought it was fi nally behind me. But then before my next fi ght, all the questions are about that! So I fi ght and I think, ‘Sweet, now it’s really behind me.’ But then, before the next fi ght [the questions are], ‘So now that it’s your second fi ght back [after the suspension] …’ You know, it’s like I can’t get rid of it!” Quickly reverting back to the cheery disposition that sometimes makes him seem more “guy that the ring girl would take home to Mom,” rather than leather-slinging combatant, Bonnar laughs off the situation gracefully.

But as any fi ghter who has experienced a setback can tell you, sometimes fans aren’t as forgiving, whether that setback involves a scandal or even just a few unlucky losses in a sport that holds 1,001 ways to lose. Unfortunately, this is also a shadowy area where “The American Psycho” sometimes fi nds himself wrongfully placed under, especially considering the fact that two of his last three losses have come at the hands of light heavyweight champ of the world Forrest Griffi n. At the same time, ironically enough, Bonnar’s biggest UFC career win came over Keith Jardine—a man who decisively knocked Griffi n silly; followed by a decision loss to Rashad Evans—the man who is next in line to try and do the same. But Stephan wouldn’t tell you as much. “Sometimes the biggest fans are the biggest critics, too. To try and please everyone is to fi ght a losing battle, so I don’t really care if I’m misunderstood or not. You’re gonna be criticized heavily no matter what, no matter who you are.” Stephan pauses, selfl essly shifting gears to offer defense to others who are caught up in the disturbingly growing trend of fi ghters being lambasted in the wake of defeat. “MMA is the most unforgiving sport there is, unlike baseball and whatnot. If you have a bad night in fi ghting, it’s, ‘You’re done, you’re washed up, it’s over, you should hang it up.’ I mean, look what Chuck [Liddell] is going through right now. I really feel for him. We [mixed martial artists] work really hard, but eventually you lose and then you have to deal with all that. So I’m done trying to please people and have people understand me. People can think what they want. I just don’t want to read about it anymore.”

Clearly, these are the words of a man who longs to move forward from any slumps or shadows of the past and up the looming mountain of continuing triumph. And whereas most fi ghters can be expected to give humdrum yearnings for a championship strap of gold and gemstones when it comes to disclosing their goals, Stephan fi rst looks to follow his calling for a simpler, yet equally impressive type of belt. “I really want to earn my black belt in Jiu-Jitsu,” reveals Bonnar, currently a brown belt, of his continuing plans for the sport. “My goals aren’t so much about the outcome of fi ghts or ‘I wanna beat this guy or that guy.’ For me, it’s about getting in the gym and trying to improve a little bit each day. The Japanese call it the Kaizen principle.” Like other fi ghters who once trained in Jiu-Jitsu under Carlson Gracie, Sr (such as WEC bantamweight champ Miguel Torres, for example), Bonnar embraces the spirit of the true martial artist that originated centuries ago in the Far East. Considering the root theme of the Kaizen principle—slow and continuous improvement, with no end—it shouldn’t be long before fans see Bonnar entering the growing stable of the “modern generation” of fi ghters who have earned their black belts in the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—a trend that, strangely enough, would otherwise be going largely unnoticed had it not been for the famous fi ght that this black-belthopeful won’t ever live down.

Sticking with the theme of the “modern generation” of fi ghters, though, at UFC 94 Bonnar will have his face-to-face meeting (or as Bonnar would probably say, “face-to-fi st” meeting) with Jon Jones, a young fi ghter who wishes to be the next big thing in the UFC. “[Jones] is a tough guy; physically, he’s very impressive. He’s young and strong, and he’s got good strikes, submissions, and wrestling,” Bonnar respectfully says, customarily acknowledging the skills of his opponent like every other fi ghter does. But Stephan isn’t every other fi ghter. “[Jon] is an unorthodox fi ghter,” Bonnar says, before adding a suggestive infl ection to his voice that could come complete with a wink and confi dent smile. “He likes to throw some slick moves—kinda like some of my moves—so it should make for an entertaining fi ght.” Cer
tainly, given the nothing-to-lose situation of Jones, coupled with the veteran status of Bonnar—not to mention his itchiness to return to his Octagonal home—this matchup has all the right tools to be a fan-pleaser, through and through.

And if things turn out right for Bonnar on January 31, perhaps fans could once again fi nd themselves in the position to see the third installment of Griffi n/Bonnar down the road—an epic battle about which all true fi ght fans are admittedly salivating at the thought. Says Bonnar about such a matchup: “First of all, I’ve got to earn my way there. I have to get past Jon Jones, who’s fi rst on my mind. And then I’d have to beat a top fi ve guy. And if Forrest keeps the belt, then maybe I could get that title shot …” On cue, Stephan’s voice becomes more light-hearted as he approaches the punch line of his thought, as he recognizes the diffi culty involved in preparing to fi ght someone with whom he trains. “Believe me, I’d still fi ght him for a title shot, but it’d just be a pain in the ass because I don’t know how we’d share the gym! But we’ll worry about it when it happens.” And that certainly is a worry that most would be happy to see Stephan have.

Unmistakably, it’s easy to see that some shadows, for good reason, were never meant to get out from under. And fortunately for Stephan Bonnar—a mixed martial artist whose continuing journey and unrelenting spirit personifi es the ups and downs of The American Dream—it is precisely all of the unfavorable shadows of controversy, injury, and downright “shit happens” bad luck that now exercise no control over the fi ghter who will be set free and allowed to start anew in 2009. And perhaps most true of all is this: In whatever he does, and regardless of if he admirably remains the salt to the pepper, or the coffee, or the cream, Stephan Bonnar will always have a place at the table that is the UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole, as he continues moving forward in the fi ght he calls life.


The inspiration for this article came during a pre-UFC 74 cocktail reception that was hosted by FIGHT! in Las Vegas. I’ve been a fan of Marc Laimon since his instructional segments that used to air during UFC pay-per-view telecasts, and I did a double take when I saw him enter the room. Laimon’s reputation is certainly a deterrent to tangling with the guy, but his appearance? Not so much.

Strangely, I found him less imposing in person than on television. Even more strange was that I caught myself thinking, “Wow, I think I could actually take this guy.” Then a voice of reason chimed in and said, “Dude, he’d get you on the ground and break your leg worse than Lawrence Taylor did to Joe Theismann during Monday Night Football.”

Right then and there, it dawned on me that the people who truly put the fear of God in me are the ones I would hesitate to mess with based on appearance. It doesn’t take a fi ght fan to know better than to mess with Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, or Andrei Arlovski. If you bumped into them in public, common sense would tell you not to pick a fi ght.

It’s the guy who doesn’t look like he can fi ght, but secretly possesses technical skills, who’s the biggest threat in today’s society. When you think about it, a guy who looks tough isn’t that much of a threat to you. If you were at a concert and some guy you didn’t know that looked like Kimbo Slice bumped into you, forcing you to spill your $12 beer, how far would you go in retaliation? Would you allow the situation to escalate beyond a few unkind words? If you’re not a pro fi ghter and you answered yes to that question, I hope you have good health insurance. But the average human being would not press the issue no matter how disgruntled they were.

Let’s use the same scenario again, but with a Royce Gracie look-alike as the instigator. Just pretend for a second you had no idea who won three of the fi rst UFC tournaments. Now pretend he not only refused to buy you a new beer but also decided to pat your girlfriend on the ass.

Would you run to the nearest bouncer and fi le an incident report, or would you throw a punch? If your answer is the latter, I’m right there with you. But I’d also be right there with you in the emergency room as they tried to reattach your arm to your torso.

With some free time on my hands, I decided to furnish a list of some of the least physically intimidating fi ghters in MMA that could kick our asses.


UFC president Dana White dubbed him the “computer nerd that can kick your ass.” That’s as apt of a description of Lauzon as you can get. Lauzon’s fi ght against Jens Pulver at UFC 54 was the fi rst time I saw him. I won’t lie, one look at Lauzon and I was convinced Pulver was going to destroy him. Lauzon looked like a deer in headlights.

If only we knew then what we know now, we probably could have fetched a ton by taking advantage of the fat underdog odds on Lauzon that were available at the time. Based on his appearance during the fi fth season of The Ultimate Fighter, Lauzon came across as a young guy who is reserved and keeps to himself. Of the footage shown, you’d never have guessed someone as quiet as he is would be as aggressive and tenacious as he is during a fi ght.


I recently read a blog that referred to Kenny Florian as a serious looking version of Ben Stiller. That’s pretty dead on. When you see Florian up close, you can tell by the scars on his face and his slight case of caulifl ower ear that he’s been in his fair share of wars.

However, from afar, Florian does not look like a stereotypical fi ghter. He’s one of the nicest guys you could ever meet, so chances are he wouldn’t start trouble with you. But if he did, and you made the mistake of judging a book by its cover, there are a number of ways in which he could make you immediately regret your decision to confront him.


Faber looks like an athlete, but has the appearance of someone you’re more likely to see compete at the X-Games than inside a cage. Faber looks small on television, but he looks even smaller in person.

I was afforded the opportunity to interview Faber and watch him train one November afternoon during a press stop in Philadelphia. The guy is so laid back and non-threatening in person that it’s easy to forget he’s one of the greatest pound-forpound fi ghters alive. But you see him train, and it’s as if someone has fl ipped a switch.

Faber’s relaxed expressions are replaced by an intense look of determination that makes you take notice. He begins to shadow box with a sense of urgency not shown by the average fi ghter. But nothing about Faber is average. Known for his wrestling, I watched Faber as he continued to throw combinations with such velocity that it almost appeared he was fi ghting a ghost.

Faber is too nice a guy to start trouble, but I pity any unsuspecting patron at a bar or a club that would ever have the audacity to get froggy with him, because “The California Kid” would likely put him on his back and proceed to clown said patron.


His nickname is “The Machine,” and even though he might look like the IT guy at your offi ce who fi xes your computer, that’s not how the nickname was derived.

The guy fi ghts with machine-like precision, and is probably best known for his upset submission victory over Yves Edwards at UFC 58. At the time, Edwards was considered one of the best fi ghters in the world at 155 pounds. Having never before seen Hominick, it was shocking to see Edwards mowed down by a guy who looked like a cancer survivor?

In spite of his gaunt appearance, the London, Ontario native has utilized his razor sharp kickboxing skills and decent submissions en route to a successful fi ve-year MMA career that includes fi ghts in the UFC and the WEC along with a stint as the TKO featherweight champion.


Prior to his arrival in the WEC, my only exposure to Condit was through grainy YouTube footage where his facial mannerisms could not be viewed with clarity. I thought perhaps his nickname of “Serial Killer” was bestowed upon him because he shared the same last name as former California congressman Gary Condit (Google search: Chandra Levy).

Condit is one of the most underrated fi ghters in the sport. When you look at him, “killer” is one word that does not come to mind. But as he enters the cage, he looks like a man possessed, and is overtaken by a crazed look in his eye that eliminates any questions about how he got his nickname. However, sans that maniacal scowl, Condit looks like a typical college student who’d only throw a punch if he was at a kegger surrounded by frat buddies.

Obviously, we know that’s not the case, as the WEC welterweight champ has shown no fear going toe-to-toe over the years with the likes of Jake Shields, Carlo Prater, Charuto Verrisimo, Brock Larson, John Alessio, and Frank Trigg.


Seriously, is there anything more nonthreatening than a guy who looks like Jesus? Let’s say you didn’t have any fear of eternal damnation for taking a swing at a man who looks like a religious icon. You’d be in store for a world of hurt.

Even an atheist would be best served avoiding any sort of confl ict with Guida, who is a strong technical wrestler with one of the biggest motors in the sport. His high-energy approach has allowed him to record victories over Bart Palaszewski, Josh Thomson, and Marcus Aurelio over the span of a four-year pro MMA career that began in July of 2003. We’d also be remiss if we left out the fact that Guida more than held his own against Gilbert Melendez during
a Strikeforce show in June of 2006.


The story is that Horodecki’s trainers lied about the 20-yearold’s age when he fi rst started competing professionally at 17. And while he looks young on TV, he looks even younger in person.

After running into him in the restroom at the Continental Airlines Arena during the IFL’s team semifi nals in August, I started to wonder whether people were still lying about his age, because he didn’t look a day older than 16.

I’m just thankful I know who he is and what he’s capable of. How do you explain to your friends that you got tooled by a guy who looks like he’s barely old enough to hold a driver’s license? I can only imagine how the conversation would go. “No, he only looks like he’s 16. He’s really much older than that. He’s actually 20!”

The good thing is that you won’t have to worry about getting into a bar fi ght with Horodecki for the time being, since he’s not legally allowed to drink in the US.


Some people are going to have a hard time with this one because if you’ve seen Fedor fi ght once, it’s hard to think of him as anything other than a badass. But pretend you’re at a bar with a buddy who is so ignorant about MMA that he actually thinks groin strikes are still legal.

Now, what if by some chance Fedor came strolling into the bar and you point to him and say to your friend “Look, that’s the most dangerous man in the planet!” Chances are that your statement might be met with a look of skepticism. Fedor by no means looks like a chump, but his demeanor is not one that suggests that he’s one of the most punishing fi ghters in the history of the sport.


Alan Belcher returns to the Octagon.

There are a lot of things taken for granted when waking up in the morning, not the least of which is the ability to see. Alan Belcher was no different. Throughout a six-year pro career, worrying about his vision wasn’t part of his daily concerns. A rising fighter in the UFC’s middleweight division and a winner of four of his last five bouts with four straight fight night bonuses, Belcher was right where he wanted to be—a breakout star in a division that needed some excitement.

In June 2010, Belcher was granted his first UFC main event—a fight against recent title challenger Demian Maia on Spike TV that was to serve as the lead-in for Season 12 of The Ultimate Fighter. Belcher was in the best shape of his career, and a win would have certainly put him in Dana White’s famous “title mix” conversation.

Out of Sight

Belcher was in Brazil training with Daniel Moraes and Rickson Gracie one month before his scheduled fight with Maia. One morning, he got up like he did every day, but something was different. He had trouble seeing out of his right eye, an experience replicated by holding your hand over the center of your right eye where all you can see is the outline.

“I thought it was going to go away,” Belcher says. “I waited another day, but it got worse,”

Belcher went to a doctor who diagnosed him with a detached retina, caused by gradually worsening retinal tears, a condition that traditionally affects people in their 50s. The doctor gave Belcher some easy advice to follow—go home and get surgery immediately. The alternative? Long-term, irreparable damage.

“I got on a plane and was in surgery the next day,” says Belcher. “My world was upside down from that moment on. A lot of things changed and made me look at life differently.”

After surgery, Belcher sat on the sidelines for the duration of 2010. He was green lit to resume training in early 2011, and cleared to begin sparring in the spring. Belcher called the time “depressing,” but the 27-year-old has an attitude that keeps him away from the negative—even when faced with the possibility of a career-ending injury.

“I try to not let anything negative keep me down or weigh on me,” he says. “I found positive things about taking the time off, including letting my body heal from nagging injuries. Really, I feel a lot better. I feel smarter, wiser, like a veteran. Things are going very well.”

Along with his wife and young daughter, Belcher got a lot of positive support from the guys at his new gym, appropriately named the Alan Belcher MMA Club. The 10,000-square-foot facility in D’Iberville, Mississippi, has become a destination point for people—children to adults—looking to train in various disciplines of MMA. Belcher’s vision is to attract both prospective fighters and those who are looking to get in shape through MMA training, without actually competing. While Belcher has been running various martial arts schools for years, the club is the first that carries his name, and, with nearly 30 employees, the venue is a place that gives him a great sense of pride.

“I’ve taken everything that I’ve learned about running my schools in the past and will try to make a flawless masterpiece,” Belcher says. “Hopefully, it will be one of the best programs in the country very soon. I really want to bridge the gap between the spectator and the person who actually learns MMA. I think it’s the future of MMA—people watching a UFC fight on their couch, and the next day, they’ll go train just for the fun of it.”

The Comeback

More than a year after he went under the knife and 16 months after he last competed, Belcher is ready to reclaim his star status when he faces Jason MacDonald on Sept. 17 at UFC Fight Night in New Orleans, Louisiana—a city just an hour outside his home of Biloxi, Mississippi. After being cleared by his doctor, Belcher didn’t want to rush back to the cage unprepared. His team looked at potential opponents and cards, spotting New Orleans and locking it in. MacDonald was the first opponent offered—and one that Belcher is ready for.

“It’s a perfect fight for my comeback,” says Belcher, estimating that 500 to 600 of his supporters will come to the area for the event. “MacDonald is a challenging opponent, and I’ve had a lot of time to think about it and train for it. I’ll be in top shape. We’re going to put on a great fight.”

Before the injury, Belcher (16-6) was on the cusp of big things. The 11-fight Octagon veteran had a standout 2009, submitting Denis Kang at UFC 93, losing a controversial split decision to Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 100, and knocking out Wilson Gouveia at UFC 107. He opened 2010 by submitting Patrick Cote in the second round of UFC 113, earning Submission of the Night honors in the process—his fourth straight event earning a bonus check.

But that was May 2010, and in the fast-paced world of MMA, it feels like a lifetime ago. New challengers such as Brian Stann have emerged, constants like Chris Leben and Michael Bisping have resurged, and new faces like Jason “Mayhem” Miller have joined the Zuffa payroll.

Suddenly, Belcher finds himself needing to re-establish himself and regain the ground that he lost in the last year. That’s fine by him. “Even if MacDonald isn’t a top-10 guy, this is a fight to see if Alan Belcher still has his drive and dedication,” Belcher says. “Do I still have it? Am I rusty? What’s going on? I won’t be judged or ranked until I finish this fight on September 17. That’s my motivation—to go in and pick up where I left off. In my head, I won’t go in there missing a beat. I want to get right back in there and get a top contender slot.”

The Talent

One of Alan Belcher’s most noticeable features is the Johnny Cash tattoo that resides on his upper left arm. What inspired Belcher to put this icon on his body several years ago?

“I was raised on classic country music by my grandparents and especially my dad,” Belcher says. “Johnny Cash was kind of like a religious figure in my family. He’s from Arkansas—not too far from where I grew up. It represents my past, something I had with me growing up. He was from a really small town and became a superstar. It’s amazing to see what small-town people can accomplish. That’s what I want to do—it’s a tribute to that.”


“Lesnar, Mayhem, and Joe Warren.” That’s what Mark Cuban answers when asked whom his favorite fighters are to watch. He doesn’t actually say this. He types it in an email, his favorite question/answer mode where journalists are concerned. Enthusiasm can’t be measured in a format like this, and context loses all elasticity…but what can be inferred is that he likes guys with their screws a little loose. Cool.


Though he’s one of the more enigmatic figures in the world of mixed martial arts, Cuban isn’t merely a billion dollar fan—he’s really become one of the sport’s ambassadors. Maybe it’s his Howard Roark esque constitution, but when the Dallas Maverick’s owner argues MMA’s legitimacy on his blog and in interviews (where they’re granted), he’s pretty fired up. He doesn’t tolerate ignorance, such as New York Assemblyman Bob Reilly’s dog fighting/prostitution comments a few months back (just Google his rebuttal). He makes no bones about his distaste for the current scoring system in MMA. He likes the fact that it’s a “Darwinian business”—that the better you are, the higher you go based on a meritocracy, and that the “bobble heads” that get booked into freak shows are generally exposed.


And when he talks of targeting new markets in a still-burgeoning sport, Cuban, as he has for years, thinks progressively.


He thinks like a dart.


In 2007, just three years after taking in his first MMA event—a WEC card on his own HDNet—he started HDNet Fights, a promotion to rival the axis of power (the UFC) in MMA. This was instantly intriguing, as here was Dana White, who had delightedly crushed every competitor that got in his way, versus Mark Cuban, a tycoon who, with an uncensored opinion of his own, had racked up nearly $2 million in fines since purchasing the Mavericks in 2000. Here was combustibility.


Things didn’t get too dramatic, though. Cuban targeted a bout between Randy Couture and Fedor Emelianenko, the biggest hypothetical fight out there at the time, but red tape and a prevailing business sense won out. As everyone knows, White eventually signed Couture back to the UFC.


Now, after HDNet Fights promoted a couple of cards in 2007 with marginal success, his HDNet channel (which Cuban started in 2001 and appears on fairly frequently) has become an outlet for MMA promotions like DREAM, Sengoku, and K-1, as well as the hub for the show Inside MMA, with Bas Rutten and Kenny Rice. Times have changed and truces reached.


Cuban, a fan first but always an entrepreneur, is a shareholder with Zuffa now. He and White might be business contentious, but they are mutually respectful. Cuban retweets Dana’s tweets. White retweets Cuban. Cuban hosted Dana and his family at UFC 103 in Dallas, where Cuban’s boosterism is legendary. Until recently, HDNet wasn’t credentialed at UFC events. Now, they are granted press badges and have reached a deal to show highlights afterward.


Things have gotten simpatico. Mostly.


“If there were three shots on the bar and it was me and Dana hanging, I would race him for the third,” says Cuban. “Meaning, we are friendly enough to go hang out. I like Dana.”


And it means they’re both competitive, with a shared love for good fights. Cuban talks nearly as much MMA as he does basketball these days, and he has thoughts on the sport, where it’s heading, how it can get better, and how it’ll go down if Shaquille O’Neal makes good on his threat to someday fight Hong Man Choi.


Since Cuban’s wider universe is in basketball, I thought I’d throw the old “corners” analogy that White is fond of using at him: If there’s a basketball game on one corner, a football game on another, guys playing baseball on another, and two guys fighting on the last…which do you watch? The fight, every time, Dana has been known to say.


“He is right,” Cuban says, “if the guys know how to fight. If two idiots were squaring off and rolling around on one corner, and Kobe and LeBron were playing one-on-one, which do you watch? On the other hand, if it’s Lesnar and Fedor, everyone would watch the fight.”


Cuban seems content to ally with the UFC for the time being, but when asked what it would take to truly rival them, he’s talking about ingredients that he possesses.


“Someone with a unique and compelling marketing angle and the money and patience to develop and brand fighters,” he says. “That’s a $100 million effort these days. Plus, don’t dismiss Strikeforce. To compete with the UFC you have to outwork Scott [Coker] and Dana. That’s a tough battle.”


What about the old Fitch debate—is to fight “entertaining” a big deal, rather than frustrating your opponent for three to five rounds en-route to victory?


“It’s not,” says Cuban. “Be who you are—be the best fighter you can be, which usually requires being great at some discipline. That said, you may not get picked up or paid as much, but being great is a far better reward.”


And what does he think of seeing Shaquille O’Neal stepping into the cage when his time on the hardwood is over? That’s easy.


“He will get his ass kicked,” he says. “But he is such an amazing and fun guy, it would be fun to watch.”


The follow-up can’t be “Is this one of your‘bobblehead’ scenarios,” as this isn’t Skype or iChat, but one can infer. What Cuban seems to be saying whenever he encounters somebody like Reilly, who doesn’t get the sport or bashes it “for a good PR opportunity,” is this: It’s a sport like any other, and to watch it is to be hooked.


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. takes you deep inside the sport and presents you with some of the upcoming New Blood.




KEY VICTORIES: Marc Stevens, Rich Moskowitz
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 pounds
AGE: 27
COUNTRY: United States


It’s not often that you come across a fighter who is as comfortable on Wall Street as he is in the cage, but that’s exactly what you get in John Cholish. A member of Team Renzo Gracie, Cholish is a former Cornell wrestling standout who now holds a 6-1 record as a pro MMA fighter, while holding down a day job as a stockbroker on Wall Street.


It’s a rarity that a graduate from an Ivy League school is jumping into the cage to start fighting, but when his wrestling career was over and the fast-paced world of buying and selling stocks still left a void, Cholish looked for another outlet.


“I’ve pretty much been wrestling since I was four years old,” says Cholish. “After I graduated from Cornell, I started working at Morgan Stanley in Manhattan, which conveniently happened to be a block away from Renzo’s gym. I figured jiu-jitsu would be fun, so I went in there one day and started training no-gi and then had the gi on in a month or two. John Danaher gave me my blue belt within three months, and I was hooked.”


That lead to training with the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Kenny Florian, Frankie Edgar, and Ricardo Almeida, and stepping into the cage. From the outside looking in, it might be hard to find the comparisons between mixed martial arts and the financial world, but the similarities are definitely there—both are frenetic jobs where careers can be made or broken on a dime and both require mental toughness.


In just three short years, Cholish utilized that mental toughness to capture the Ring of Combat Lightweight Championship with a submission of Rick Moskowitz. That lead to a shot on the undercard of Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Silva in New Jersey. Cholish made the most of his opportunity, submitting Marc Stevens in the second round. Cholish has finished five of the six opponents he has defeated.


It’s his own competitive nature that led Cholish to becoming a stockbroker and a mixed martial artist, and he’s passionate about both. While many fighters hang up their day job at the first chance they get when big promotions come calling, he has no intention of walking away. As a matter of fact, Cholish believes leaving his day job is the last thing he plans on doing.


“I truly believe when I get to the next level, which is obviously my goal, I could still work a full-time schedule,” says Cholish. “I think I can burn the candle at both ends, at least for a couple more years. I don’t think there’s any reason to be lazy about it.”




KEY VICTORY: Robert Emerson
WEIGHT CLASS: 155 pounds
AGE: 28
COUNTRY: United States


For lightweight prospect Justin Salas, the path has been simple: set goals, achieve them, and then move on. It is upon this foundation that he has found his success in MMA.


“Last year, we had a list of things we wanted to get done,” Salas says. “Number one was to get a title, and since then, I’ve won two. Another marker was to beat a UFC caliber guy, which was something I accomplished with my last win.”


The fight that Salas is speaking of is his win over UFC veteran Rob Emerson for the Full Force MMA Lightweight Title. Despite injuring his foot in the first round, Salas was able to produce the kind of performance that he hopes will become his staple in the years to come.


“I dictated the fight,” he says. “If I wanted to stand, I stood, and when I decided to take it to the ground, we went to the ground. It allowed me to control the whole pace of the fight.”


Coming from a wrestling background, Salas has been able to make the transition to MMA with help from some of the best trainers and fighters in the business at the Grudge Training Center in Colorado and Jackson’s MMA in New Mexico. Having an opportunity to work with such high-level talent, Salas knows that his fight game is improving every day.


“I think people have set criteria out there, and I feel like I’ve met those challenges,” says Salas. “I’d like to get in there and get my chance, but at the same time, you can’t waste too much time worrying about it. If they give me the shot, I’ll take it. If not, I’m just going to look forward to the next step and take it one fight at a time.”




KEY VICTORIES:Ulysses Gomez, Jeremy Bolt
WEIGHT CLASS: 125 Pounds
AGE: 23
COUNTRY: United States
NICKNAME: Mongoose


Flyweight fighters in the United States don’t get much attention. World Extreme Cagefighting did not have a flyweight division before it merged into the UFC. The UFC has plans on tap, but there is no 125 pound weight class currently on the books. Strikeforce? Nope. However, there is an ever growing roster of fighters that are pioneering the fly weightclass. Darrell Montague is one such fighter.


Under the guidance of Romie Aram and Bettis Mansouri at Millennia MMA and training alongside WEC veterans Manny Tapia and Charlie Valencia, Montague has quickly made huge strides in the sport.


Fighting professionally for three years, at just 23 years of age, he hasn’t wasted time spinning his wheels. Montague racked up a 41 record in the first year of his career alone. His record now stands at 91, finishing all but two of the fights he has won.


Montague’s greatest achievement was also his greatest performance. He stepped into the co main event of Tachi Palace Fights 8, challenging Flyweight Champion Ulysses Gomez, a fighter who most pundits expected to help break out the division when the bright lights of the bigger leagues came calling.


Montague catapulted himself into the upper echelon of the class by dominating Gomez. He put on a performance reminiscent of UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz, taking Gomez completely out of his game for the entire fight. When Gomez wanted to go to the ground, the only times he got there were courtesy of Montague’s striking.


For the duration of the five rounds, Montague chopped away at Gomez with a wide array of strikes and kicks. He threw everything in his arsenal, and he worked from high to low at all angles.


Montague walked out of the cage with a unanimous decision and the Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight Title around his waist, immediately making him one of the hottest properties in the burgeoning division.


Things were mighty different in the early UFCs. Fighters threw elbows to the back of their opponents’ heads, struck the groin, and grabbed hair, all with impunity. None of this mayhem, however, was the point of the show.

On one side of the Octagon at UFC 1 stood “the shark,” that skinny, chosen representative of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Royce Gracie, the younger brother of then-promoter Rorion Gracie. On the other side was everyone else, none of whom knew or likely had even seen Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

“No one understood how to fight him [Royce],” noted legendary MMA referee Big John McCarthy later. To Rorion, the UFC was basically “an infomercial for BJJ.”

Royce won the first two UFC tournaments (both had one-night tournaments) and submitted Kimo Leopoldo in his first fight at UFC III, but Royce had to withdraw from that tournament because of an injury suffered during the fight. Still, his opponents then, with the exception of Ken Shamrock, whom Royce had choked out in 57 seconds at UFC I, had dubious or obscure combat sports credentials.

The lineup for UFC IV, however, held December 16, 1994, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, posed a special problem for Royce. In the opposite bracket was Dan Severn, a twotime All-American wrestler at Arizona State and a 1986 U.S. Freestyle Wrestling Champion. Bobby Douglas, his hall-of-fame wrestling coach, called him the best technical college wrestler at that time.

As expected, both Gracie and Severn advanced to the finals, all with submission victories. Royce won by rear naked choke over Ron Van Clief in 2:42 and then defeated Keith Hackney by armbar in 5:34. Severn choked out Anthony Macias in 1:45 and Marcus Bossett in 54 seconds.

How on earth, then, would the 180-pound Gracie, giving up about 70 pounds in this no-weight class, no-time limit event, be able to outgrapple Severn?

This fight, if watched today, can only be understood in the context of that time. Severn shot in and hit a takedown, was caught in Gracie’s guard, and remained there for many minutes. Gracie threw some axe-kicks to Severn’s back, but, overall, there was little action on the mat.

Yet, it was mesmerizing because almost no one knew how or when it would end. The old UFC record for the longest fight was easily shattered, as the two lay there for 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 minutes. This unexpectedly lengthy fight ran past the allotted time for the pay-per-view, leaving viewers howling as the telecast cut off before a finish. Eventually, Gracie’s legs snaked up Severn’s back, although the announcer told us Severn was in no danger.

Then, as those legs continued upward and wrapped around Severn, the big wrestler tapped the mat. At 15:49 of this fight, many fans—probably for the first time—witnessed the beauty and effectiveness of a triangle choke.

It would not only be the first time this technique was used in the UFC, but also the last time Royce Gracie was victorious inside the Octagon.


I get a lot of letters, so I thought it would be good to let you guys in on the answers to some of the questions I am frequently asked!

Hey Bas,

Just want to say mate that I loved your self-defense clips on YouTube. Good stuff. Can I ask about you learning submission/ground fighting? I’m in the same boat, as I’ve few grappling skills and think I should work on them to round out my skills.

How long did it take you to become proficient in grappling? How intensely did you train (how many times a week, etc)? How did your other skills suffer? One of the reasons I’ve not gotten into grappling is I don’t want to forgo my Capoeira and stand up sessions.

After my second loss against Ken Shamrock, I realized that nobody was going to stand with me. Heck, even Maurice Smith took me down! I started to train twice a day only doing submissions. Three times a week, I did the Thai pads, because I knew striking already, so I concentrated on the submissions. It paid off, because I won the next eight fights by submission!

My record of wins is half by submission, half by TKO. The part that I am really proud of is that they are all different submissions and KOs. That‘s what I believe a true MMA fighter should be capable of doing. When an opponent makes a mistake, capitalize on that and take whatever he gives you.

It really has to depend on you, how far do you want to take it? It’s very simple; don’t do something just because somebody tells you. See if you can make a submission better.

Most of the time you can’t, but sometimes you can! Even when you can’t, consciously thinking about a submission will make you better at it. This helped me a LOT!

Some people are strikers and just want to learn defenses for takedowns and submissions.

However, they don’t realize that when they learn to take people down or to submit them, they also understand how to stay out of those submissions, or even to escape them.

Write down things that pop up in your head, and try them out in training. Trust me, that’s what happened to me. My students now prefer to stand up with me than go to the ground.

You do need a good training partner. I had only one in Holland, and he was also new, but he learned fast. That meant that when I put an arm bar on him, within a couple of tries he knew how to stay out of it. So I needed a new set up for that same arm bar. He’d learn to defend that one after a few tries, so I’d come up with another one. This really made me think and create different ways to set up techniques and that made me better. It was good for him as well. Don’t forget to apply that advice to stand up combinations as well.

Remember, it’s not about knowing the technique. Anybody can learn a simple figure four submission in a minute. It’s about setting it up so your opponent doesn’t detect it.

Good luck! Don’t become fixated on complex techniques. If it’s too complicated and you don’t feel it, that technique is just not for you. Not everybody can pull off a gogoplata. Also, try to counter attack right away after an escape. Your opponent is still thinking about you escaping his technique, and he’ll be distracted!

Godspeed and Party on!



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.




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.




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.




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.




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.




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.


The “lucky” punch always lands against the overwhelming favorite. It usually materializes out of nowhere, and our hero almost never sees it coming. The idea of a lucky anything (punch, kick, knee, etc.) resides in the eyes of the fan. Surprising and unexpected? Yes. Lucky? No.


Everyone Gets Caught


Any lucky punch, kick, submission, or decision—any way a person can win a fight—can be turned into a commentary on luck. Scores of MMA fans declared that Brian Bowles’ KO victory against Miguel Torres at WEC 42 to be the result of a lucky punch. Bowles simply said, “We train to knock each other out, so how can a punch be lucky?” Fighters spend thousands of hours punching and defending punches, submitting and defending submissions. What fans may see as lucky is actually the byproduct of a lot of hard work. MMA is a game of milliseconds and millimeters. No matter how good a fighter is and no matter how hard he works, one mistake can be the end. The underdog isn’t always lucky. Sometimes he just avoids making a fatal mistake and capitalizes on his opponent’s error. That’s not luck, that’s smart fighting.


When I am watching fights, I look for certain “fatal” errors and mistakes. Even the best fighters are guilty of these, especially as the fight wears on. These errors have the potential to make one fighter seem very lucky and another very unhappy. Is the fighter who finds a way to capitalize on another guy’s mistake in the last minute of the round lucky? Or did he just have better strength and conditioning to keep him going late in the round?


Why We Want to Believe It


The lucky punch is always in the realm of David vs. Goliath. We expect the greats to win with one punch KOs. When it’s David knocking out Goliath with the same shot, it has to be luck. In some strange way it almost makes us feel good. It makes us feel as if the everyman always has a chance of winning if the dice fall the right way. No matter how much of an underdog someone is, it can always go their way. However, deep down, it scares every fighter. The knowledge that no matter how great you are, it can all change in the blink of an eye scares almost everyone. Sometimes a lucky punch is the excuse we need to keep going. If we believe that luck was on the other guy’s side, even if just for a second, we can write it off as an unnatural act. It takes some of the sting away and makes going back to training a little easier.


I tell my fighters there are three inevitabilities in MMA: You will get hurt, you will lose, and you will end up on a highlight reel at the wrong end of a seemingly lucky punch. It will happen, and we will keep going after it does. Good coaches have to make sure that fighters believe in themselves, not in luck. Every loss has to be examined and lessons learned.