Strikeforce

Strikeforce

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(Rogers abuses Abongo Humphrey. Photo by Tom Casino/Showtime.)

The first in a three-part series.

Before Brett Rogers was a 6’5”, 265-pound fighter, he was a heavy-set kid growing up in Chicago at the time of Air Jordan’s and 8-ball jackets. Growing up between Chicago’s south and west sides during the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Rogers says he was headed for trouble. He wasn’t in a gang but his size made him a target for both recruiting and ridicule.

The 28-year-old lived just four blocks from his school, “but four blocks turned into ten blocks because you had to take certain turns, certain streets you couldn’t walk on just because you weren’t from that street or that block,” said Rogers.

“The Grim” remembers coming to the aid of his younger brothers, who were being bullied by other kids. “It just kinda broke out into a fight,” said Rogers matter-of-factly. “I’m the type that if I can’t win it with my hands, I’m gonna pick something up and bust you upside the damn head…To this day, I don’t know what happened and there was a lot of blood involved and I just didn’t care.”

It was survival of the fittest in Rogers’ neighborhoods, which for a time included the notorious Cabrini Green public housing project. But when Rogers was 12 years old his grandmother threw him a lifeline and invited him to live with her in Minnesota.

“Baby, you wanna come with me?” she asked.

“You know what? Yeah,” Rogers responded.

“The way she sat and explained it,” said Rogers, “A better place sounded like heaven.” His mother never drove – she still doesn’t, to this day – so Rogers’ world extended only ten blocks in each direction as a child. Moving north was “a lot…different,” said Rogers, in part because he was now surrounded by white people, who he’d had limited contact with before.

Minnesota has its street life just like any major city, but away from the gang-war ravaged streets of Chicago, Rogers was able to have a normal life, playing football and basketball in high school. In junior college, his competitive nature pushed him into tae kwon do. Tough man events followed and after approximately 15 bouts he switched to mixed martial arts because he liked the options.

Rogers’ ability to take advantage of his options got him out of Chicago and it’s brought him right back, albeit under much different circumstances. And the toughness he developed before he left will be crucial to his success when he returns to face Fedor Emelianenko on Nov. 7. “To this day, you ain’t gonna punk me around or try to boss me or whatever it is,” said Rogers. “I’m the pack leader on my own. I’m not a push over. Trust me.”

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Once regarded as the weak link in the promotion’s chain, the Ultimate Fighting Championship now has four legitimate contenders for Brock Lesnar’s title in Frank Mir, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Minotauro Nogueira, future challengers Junior dos Santos and Roy Nelson, and a slew of young talent thanks to TUF Season 10.

But rival promotion Strikeforce’s prestige class is in a predicament. There’s champion Alistair Overeem who hasn’t fought in America since he won the title in Nov. 2007. Then there’s Fedor Emelianenko, the consensus #1 heavyweight in the world. Brett Rogers tested Fedor before suffering a second-round TKO, and Fabricio Werdum called ‘next’ for Fedor after topping Antonio Silva on the same card.

Then there’s Bobby Lashley, Mike Kyle, Daniel Cormier and Herschel Walker, who are all too green to present credible match ups with the best in the division. In between exists a talent gap, and with plenty of good fighters competing on the independent circuit, Strikeforce needs to reach out and build a bridge with a recipe of young lions and veterans with something left for add to its roster:

Wes Sims

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(Courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

Sims is back in the spotlight, even if it’s just for one night and he’s expected to be chicken feed for Bobby Lashley. The three-time UFC veteran was formally, and finally, named Lashley’s opponent for Saturday night in Sunrise after two others fell through.
After Lashley, Sims will face former UFC Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia at the end of March. Few, if anybody, is giving Sims a chance, especially after his unremarkable run on “The Ultimate Fighter 10” when he was choked unconscious in the first round by Justin Wren. But Sims is only 30 and his class clown routine on the show kept his face on screen. He’s also riding a three-fight winning streak and is a veteran of two UFC battles with Frank Mir. If he at least survives against Lashley, Strikeforce may want to consider negotiating with him to at the very least add a recognizable name to its heavyweight camp.

Demico Rogers

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(Courtesy of Zuffa, LLC)

Rogers lost to Brendan Schaub during TUF 10 but shows enough potential that Rogers revealed on his Facebook page that Dana White left the door open to him once he gains more experience. Dream or Strikeforce could have served as a stepping stone but the Team Rampage member was encouraged to refine his game and accept up to six fights over the next year after joining Trevor Whitman’s Grudge Training Camp to train with rival coach Rashad Evans. Rogers returns to the cage Feb. 13 to fight Team Quest’s Dan Stewart (4-1) at the Snoqualmie Casino in suburban Seattle. “We are trying to get me as much experience as we can this year then we will see where I’m at,” Rogers said. “Hopefully the UFC and Strikeforce will want me!”

Jeff Monson

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At age 39 Monson is a tough, blue-collar veteran who poses a challenge to anyone. The “Snowman” parlayed 14 straight victories into a second UFC stint that included wins over Branden Lee, Marcio Cruz and Anthony Perosh before dropping a five-round unanimous decision to champion Tim Sylvia. Subsequently, negotiations to fight then-PRIDE heavyweight king Fedor Emelianenko fell through.
Monson has won eight of his last nine fights, most notably a controversial decision over Roy Nelson on Roy Jones Jr.’s hybrid boxing/MMA card “March Badness.” His failure to avenge a 2007 loss to Pedro Rizzo was his only defeat in ’09. Monson is the type of crafty and courageous warhorse who can put a scare into the Bobby Lashleys of the world.

Dave “Pee Wee” Herman

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(Herman kicks Kerry Schall. Props to Esther Lin.)

Herman has traveled the world to compile a 16-1 record, including a 12-0 run to begin his career. ProMMA.info reported last December that Herman may headline a Gameness Fighting Championship (GFC) card in Nashville on Feb. 20. His first-round knockout of Jim York at Sengoku 11 became a Knockout of the Year nominee on Inside MMA’s 2009 Bazzie Awards. A fledging organization needs hungry young talent eager to make their mark. Herman is a fighter that if successful Strikeforce can market around for a long time.

Justin Wren


(Justin Wren throws on Jon Madsen at the TUF 10 Finale.)

Another young lion who was dropped by the UFC after his split decision loss to Jon Madsen at the TUF 10 Finale despite his impressive TUF 10 win over Wes Sims and a controversial two round majority decision loss to Roy Nelson in the quarterfinals. Wren, now a member of the Greg Jackson’s Denver contingent, could make the UFC regret its decision if Strikeforce comes calling.

Honorable Mentions

Josh Barnett

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(Props to Esther Lin.)

The biggest name and most accomplished fighter on the market is dogged by the positive drug test that doomed his title bout against Fedor and effectively shuttered Affliction. He’s scheduled to appear before the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC), an appointment already postponed twice, on Feb. 22 to reapply for his license. Strikeforce would love him, but there’s no telling if he’ll fight again in the U.S.

Aleksander Emelianenko

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(Props to Tracy Lee.)

Fedor’s little brother is a legit heavyweight in his own right, has a large and loyal fan base of his own, and boasts a fan-friendly style. The only problem is that he’s unable to get sanctioned by the CSAC over undisclosed problems with his blood tests leading up to his Affliction bout with Paul Buentello. The younger Emelianenko, who boasts an impressive canvas of Russian mob tattoos, is rumored to carry Hepatitis B, which would end his career in the U.S. Even if that turns out to not be the case it may be impossible for Strikeforce to sign Aleksander because he is persona non grata to the company’s promotional partner, M-1 Global – Aleks left Fedor’s camp and M-1 officials refuse to discuss him on the record or off.

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(Jay Hieron swings on Jesse Taylor in his Strikeforce debut.)

Michael Huang’s profile of Jay Hieron first appeared in the Aug. 2009 issue of FIGHT! Magazine. Hieron will fight Joe Riggs on Jan. 30 at Strikeforce: Miami.

When the walls that surround you are covered in shit, that might be a sign you’ve hit rock bottom. For Jay Hieron, his entire world had atrophied to a tiny cinderblock jail cell. The sink was more like a urinal, and there was no mattress on his bed, just coils of rusty bed springs spiraling up like thorns.

And the stench! Someone had smeared shit all over the walls. The floor was probably venomous. On those rusty coils, he curled up into a ball in his orange jumpsuit and tried to sleep. The springs creaked and lurched underneath him. He could see his own breath. Thanksgiving had just passed. He pictured being back at his mom’s house, maybe having some pasta and her homemade Italian sauce he loved so much.

The thing about jail was it gave a man time to think. And there was plenty going through Hieron’s mind: the decisions he had made, the things he had done. The drugs he had used, the drugs he had sold. And while all the trappings of fast money—cars, booze, women, parties— made him think he was living life, in fact the real Jay Hieron had already died.

Gone was the skinny kid who sat with his wrestling coaches for hours after practice and during his lunch period at school watching wrestling videos. The gutsy kid who learned how to fight because neighborhood bullies beat him up now got into fights on Pearsall Avenue just for the hell of it. Though he had not yet fallen asleep, Jay Hieron had his wakeup call. Indeed, the real Jay Hieron was about to be resurrected.

A CHAMP BRIEFLY

Brazilian Delson Heleno had to be carried out of the ring on the shoulders of his trainer. The International Fight League had done away with its team format and thrown its belts up for grabs amid the four best fighters in each weight class in a Grand Prix tournament. After dismantling Donnie Liles one month earlier, Hieron punished Heleno on December 29, 2007, to capture the IFL Welterweight belt.

Heleno’s leg injury looked like the product of Hieron’s repeated outside and inside kicks. When Heleno crumpled, he tried to pull Hieron into a full guard. No chance—not with an injured left leg. Hieron rained down punches until the referee stopped the fight and pulled him off. He then climbed over the ring corner and raised his arm in victory.

“It was the proudest moment of my life,” Hieron said. “It was like all the sacrifices I had made were all worth it. I dedicated that fight to my father, John, who had passed away. He was sick leading up to the fight.” The victory served as the early pinnacle of Hieron’s metamorphosis from scared little kid to dominant high school and college wrestler, then to drug dealing street thug, and finally to IFL world champion. It was an arduous journey, but one that Hieron said needed to happen.

“When I got into wrestling, it gave me focus and something to pour all of my anger and energy into. It saved my life,” he said. “When I got into mixed martial arts, fighting and combat saved my life again.” However, after Hieron defeated Mark Miller by TKO in New Jersey, four months after winning his championship, the IFL went out of business, and Hieron was out one title belt.

BIG LOVE

The home of Theo and John Hieronymous had plenty of extra love. Adoption was nothing new to them, having already taken in a little girl. They befriended a young Coney Island woman who was having trouble caring for her new baby. Theo and John, meet baby James. “Jay was eight weeks old when we got him,” Theo said. “His mother really wanted to take care of him but was so set in her abusive lifestyle, she couldn’t change. We eventually went to court after eight years and they terminated her rights. We could officially adopt him. It was the happiest day of my life.

The family lived in Freeport, a town on Long Island’s southern shore. Theo worked as a nurse on the graveyard shift, while John owned a fender and body shop in nearby Oceanside. When Hieron was ten, Theo and John divorced, forcing Theo to move to a rental property the family owned and lease out their primary residence. Freeport had its relatively affluent parts, but it also had its thorny parts, such as its northern edge, where Theo had moved with her kids. There, one either learned how to fight or learned how to run.

An 85-pound James Hieronymous learned the latter. His anger and frustration welled up inside, locked in by his fear. “I was mad at myself, really,” Hieron said. “There always was a bunch of kids picking on me; it was never just one guy. Before you knew it, it was fi ve on one.”

Even more humiliating was standing at the local 7-11 waiting for his older sisters to come walk him home. From his sisters Barbara, Cindy, and Suzie, there was no tough love, just love. They didn’t leave him out there to fend for himself, but he never escaped without a little bit of teasing. As Hieron was a naturally hyperactive youngster, his anger fueled his engine. And that kinetic energy needed to get out. Sliding down all of the banisters in his house just wasn’t cutting it.

While he remembered his father being a huge boxing fan, it was the martial arts that first intrigued him. “My dad loved Sugar Ray Leonard,” Hieron said. “But I always loved Bruce Lee. I’d sit in my room and beat up on my pillows, doing kicks and karate chops.”

At thirteen, he began experimenting with boxing at the Police Athletic League. The first taste electrified him. However, the gym was nearly a half an hour away. Getting there became just too difficult. But that electricity stayed with him. So a year later, when he entered high school, Hieron decided to join the wrestling team. “[The high school] was a tough place,” he said. “It was learn to defend myself or keep getting beat up.”

A NATURAL SMARTASS

“He was in my gym class as a ninth grader,” said Freeport High School head wrestling coach Russ Cellan. “His name was so long, I couldn’t pronounce it. Then he came out for the wrestling team.” Cellan was amazed at Hieron’s physique. There was nothing—nothing but a thirst for knowledge.

“He was just a little guy, like ninety pounds. There was not an ounce of fat or muscle. But he’d say ‘Coach, show me moves.’ Anything. You’d see that in his wrestling style—always aggressive. He’d give up points, but he’d get them back.” Hieron took to wrestling like a thirsty man gulping down a glass of ice water. An eventual high school state championship gave way to a national junior college championship at Nassau (NY) Community College. In between, Hieron had a brief stint at an Iowa junior college, with hopes of transferring to the University of Iowa, but he returned home after one semester.

Hieron later found his way to nearby Hofstra University and ascended to be the third-ranked wrestler in the country at 158 pounds. What happened next set off a chain reaction of decisions that derailed his life. “I got busted for smoking weed, and Hofstra had a new rule that if you got tested positive, you were out for the season,” Hieron said. “I was a knucklehead, and the funny thing was it was nobody’s fault except mine, but I was mad at wrestling. Mad at the school. Mad at everything.”

That anger manifested itself in late-night brawls on Pearsall Avenue. Combat continued to be his outlet, marijuana and cocaine his pacifier and a source of income. The James Hieronymous who had won championships on the mat forsook it all—throwing his trophies, medals, and plaques all in the garbage. At one point, good friend and wrestling teammate Phil Baroni tried to interest Hieron in mixed martial arts. Baroni was fighting in Toughman competitions and in some amateur boxing matches. He brought Hieron to Bellmore Kickboxing Academy. Baroni asked owner/trainer Keith Trimble if Hieron could spar with someone.

“Phil, your friend hasn’t done any training,” Trimble said. “Jay’s a tough guy, a great wrestler. He can handle it,” Baroni said. “I wouldn’t let Jay spar unless I taught him a couple of things first,” Trimble said. “So I taught him some jabs, then I let him get in there. Basically, he sparred with my guy for about eleven minutes, and my guy bloodied up Jay pretty good. After that, Jay disappeared. I didn’t see him for two years.”

THE DESCENT

Unlike players in other sports, like baseball, football, and basketball, wrestlers had no “real” professional options until the rise of MMA. In other words, there was no money in wrestling. “I had all my friends from high school chasing their dreams—Morlon Greenwood (NFL linebacker) and Speedy Claxton (NBA guard). And what did I get out of wrestling? I got thrown off the team. So I said I was going to go and make some money.”

And make money he did, amassing a fleet of cars, motorcycles, jet skis, and four-wheelers. The focus and energy that Hieron had put into wrestling he applied with the same zeal to dealing drugs. And he succeeded by being smart. He kept a store of cash in case of an emergency. “Drug dealers don’t usually think that way,” he said.

After two years of dealing drugs, an internal clock in his head said that his luck was running out. Dealers and customers he knew had gotten pinched. He was looking for a way out, but the realization had come too late. It was just after Thanksgiving. Local authorities had already come by Theo’s house once looking for Jay. Hieron’s lawyer—funded by his store of cash—laid out the situation: A-2 felony, mandatory three years to life. He turned himself in, donned his orange jumpsuit and, for a month and a half, found himself in a world of shit.

“I took a look in the mirror before I turned myself in,” Hieron said. “I didn’t like what I saw. And, honestly, the whole time I was dealing drugs, I never liked the fact I was doing it. But I liked the money. It [getting arrested] was one of the best things that could have happened to me.” His mother put up her house to bail him out. “I gave them the deed to my house,” Theo said. “Basically, if he took off, I would lose the house. But I knew that Jay would never do that to me.”

THE TRANSFORMATION

Though he was out of jail, Hieron found himself still shackled by indecision. Where he was terrorized by bullies as a child, he now found idle hands to be his worst enemy. The anger had returned, and the only release he knew was working out. He found himself back at Bellmore Kickboxing Academy.

“Jay came back and asked if he could just come and work out, use the weights,” Trimble said. “After about a week, he came up to me and said ‘I want to fight. Can you teach me how to fight?’” Trimble was familiar with Hieron’s background as an accomplished wrestler. He was also familiar with Hieron’s checkered past. “I was thinking at fi rst this kid’s full of shit. He’s not going to show up, he’s a troublemaker,” Trimble said. “So I would give him weird times to be at the gym, but he was always there every day, ready to train.”

Hieron first learned how to strike and punch, competing in several Muay Thai and kickboxing competitions before even venturing into MMA. “Jay basically lived at the gym,” Trimble said, echoing Cellan. “He lived to learn, always asking questions. His work ethic is unbelievable. There would be times where I would lock up his stuff and tell him to take a couple days off. So what did he do? He’d go in the back room and watch tapes.”

“Those old films just got the competitive juices flowing again,” Hieron said. “It got those hairs standing up again.” Hieron’s striking skills improved and sharpened. Trimble then taught him how to avoid submission holds before teaching him how to apply them. Quickly, Hieron knew both.

Meanwhile, Hieron’s court proceedings resumed. He pleaded guilty, so the charge was reduced to a “B” felony, meaning a possible maximum mandatory six-month jail sentence.

Hieron collected several character testaments from Cellan and other wrestling coaches who confirmed that he was a decent kid who had just made some bad decisions. The judge came back with the verdict: Five years of probation and no jail time. By July 19, 2003, Hieron had his first MMA fight.

In a high school gym in Bayonne, New Jersey, Hieron, with Baroni and Trimble in his corner, ground-and-pounded Keith Plate. By 1:23 in the first round, the referee called a stop to the fi ght by way of TKO. “I fought on emotions, basically,” Hieron said. “It was a blur, but it felt good. The sport was my life now.”

RESURRECTION COMPLETE

If Iowa didn’t appeal to Hieron, perhaps he just hadn’t gone far enough west. At one point, Baroni had a fight in Las Vegas and asked Hieron to accompany him. For Hieron, watching the fights in Vegas was an epiphany.

“I came to Vegas, and that really opened my eyes,” Hieron said. “I saw guys like Tito Ortiz training, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ This is what I want to do.” Hieron came to the conclusion that Las Vegas was where he needed to chase his MMA dreams. Only one problem: his probation officer.

After having requested twice that his probation be transferred to Las Vegas, Hieron took a leap of faith, and he and girlfriend, Maira, moved out west. After three months, Hieron returned to find his probation officer sympathetic to his plight and confi dent in his turnaround. He only asked Hieron for a monthly report from Las Vegas on his progress.

Today, Jay Hieron is 17-4, riding a six-fight winning streak, most recently pounding Jason High in late January. He married Maira. He changed his ring name from Hieronymous to Hieron because he’s too proud of it to have it butchered by ring announcers. He works and trains for Xtreme Couture and is signed with Affliction, awaiting that next fight card. Resurrection complete.

“There was a time in my life when I fell down,” Hieron said. “Now I don’t take my life for granted. I lived two separate lives—one as a bad guy/drug dealer and the other as a fighter. I’ve got a second chance. I won’t waste it.”

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There was a time, before the Heavyweight division was chock full of muscle bound monsters, that a Belarusian fighter by the name of Andrei Arlovski was the talk of the town. “The Pitbull” dominated the Heavyweight division from 2002 – 2005 and excited fans with his brutal finishes. But since the UFC (and MMA in general) began to make a move into the mainstream, Arlovski has had a rough fall from grace. It’s unfortunate that many were not able to see Arlovski in his prime but perhaps the boxing tactician from Minsk will redeem himself at Strikeforce: Heavy Artillery against Antonio Silva on May 15. Until then, let’s take a look at some of Arlovski’s most memorable and not so memorable moments during his extensive MMA career.

BEST

UFC 51: 2/5/05
Win Vs Tim Sylvia: Submission (Heel Hook) – 0:47 Rd 1

After a 2004 motorcycle accident sidelined Heavyweight champion Frank Mir and led to the creation of the interim title, it was decided that Andrei Arlovski and former heavyweight champ Tim Sylvia would battle at UFC 51 to determine the holder of the belt.

The 6’8” “Maine-iac” looked to be a huge mountain for Arlovski to climb, but the sambo master was more than up to the task. Even though he was outweighed by 25 pounds, Arlovski took the fight right to Mount Sylvia. With Mir, Goldie and Rogan discussing the difficulties with Sylvia’s size, Arlovski found the answer in his mighty right hand. As Sylvia waded in, Arlovski tossed a left hand and followed with a crushing right hand that chopped Sylvia down. Rather than attempt to pummel the big man, Arlovski scrambled for Sylvia’s right leg and locked in a tight heel hook that gave the former champ no choice but to tap out.

UFC 55: 10/7/05
Win Vs Paul Buentello: KO (Punch) – 0:15 Rd 1

If you blinked you missed it. The commentary team of Joe Rogan and Eddie Bravo certainly did.

Paul Buentello had become a walking wrecking ball as he approached his fight with Arlovski for the Heavyweight title. He had finished off his past six opponents – five in the first round – and looked nearly unstoppable heading into the sure –to-be stand up brawl with Arlovski.

As Buentello rushed in at the opening bell, the champion shellacked him with a straight right hand that put “The Headhunter” to bed instantly. Buentello fell forward, only being held up by Arlovski’s back – which he was momentarily using as a futon to catch some much needed Z’s – before finally falling to the ground at the :15 mark of the first round. It happened so fast that the whole arena fell silent as Rogan asked “What happened?” before Arlovski jubilantly screamed in victory. The crowd booed lustfully at what transpired, perhaps thinking Buentello took a dive, until they saw the replay.

“People are yelling bullsh*t, but there’s no bullsh*t in that right hand,” Rogan said.

Indeed.

EliteXC: Heat: 10/4/08
Win Vs Roy Nelson: KO (Punch) 1:46 Rd 2

In Arlovski’s debut in the now defunct EliteXC, he was paired up with former IFL Heavyweight champion Roy Nelson after the Affiliction event pitting him against Josh Barnett was rescheduled. Nelson was on a five fight winning streak after losing to Ben Rothwell a year prior. Arlovski was fresh off of a third round KO of Rothwell and was in the midst of a four fight winning streak entering the cage.

Arlovski found himself in a bit of trouble early on as a failed takedown attempt left the big bellied fighter from Las Vegas on top of “The Pitbull.” The jiujitsu brown belt kept Arlovski fighting off one arm lock after another before referee Jorge Ortiz stood them back up. As the two exchanged strikes toward the end of the first, “Big Country” seemed to be tiring rather quickly.

A minute into the second, the Belarusian landed a straight right hand and a left head kick that rocked Nelson. Arlovski would then go to work as he followed an inside leg kick with a nasty uppercut and a straight right hand that sent Nelson crashing to the mat. It would be the first and only time that Nelson has been knocked out.

WORST

UFC 59: 4/15/06
Loss Vs Tim Sylvia: TKO (Strikes) 2:43 Rd 1

When Sylvia and Arlovski met for a second time at UFC 59 in Anaheim, Ca, it didn’t appear that too much had changed since their first meeting 14 months previous. Arlovski had wiped out both Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello with first round KOs while Sylvia had bounced back from his loss with three consecutive wins. Sylvia, however, seemed to be more focused than their first meeting. He was in great shape and wanted to prove that “The Pitbull” wasn’t the indestructible fighter that he appeared to be.

Many figured that in order for Sylvia to have a chance against Arlovski, he would have to drag the fight to the ground where the Belarusian spent very little time during his UFC tenure. A clean shaven Arlovski entered the cage, and perhaps he needed his beard to protect his glass jaw on this night.
Arlovski started off showcasing his impressive boxing skills as he plucked away at “The Maine-iac” with jabs and hooks to the head and body. It looked like we were about to have an instant replay of the first meeting when a two punch combination – nearly a carbon copy of their first meeting –sent Sylvia crumbling to the canvas. But this time, Sylvia wouldn’t allow Arlovski to lock in a heel hook as he scrambled back to his feet immediately. Still shaking off the cobwebs, Sylvia would catch the reckless Belerusian coming in with a short right hand and sent him face first to the mat. Sylvia wasted no time pouncing on his fallen prey and pounding him with right hands until Herb Dean came to the rescue.

Affliction: Day Of Reckoning: 1/24/09
Loss Vs Fedor Emelianenko: KO (Punch) – 3:14 Rd 1

When Andre Arlovski jumped up in the air, it was Saturday and he was probably thinking about how well his performance had been to that point against Fedor Emelianenko. When he crash landed, it was Monday and the arena was empty.

The two finally met in January of 2009 – after their original October date was rescheduled – and many thought “The Pitbull” had a great chance at usurping “The Last Emperor” at Affliction’s much anticipated pay per view. The highly regarded standup of Arlovski appeared to be the perfect antidote for the WAMMA heavyweight champion’s sick ground game. Manny Pacquiao’s trainer Freddie Roach also helped him get ready for one of the biggest fights of his life. Arlovski also had a height and weight advantage heading into the fight. But there’s a reason Fedor is regarded as the best heavyweight ever in MMA.

Arlovski had been pitching a beauty of a game for the first three minutes of the fight. He kept Emelianenko off balance with his blend of leg kicks and punches. A two punch combination seemed to rattle Fedor and a front kick by Arlovski sent the Affliction champ into the corner. But just like the Sylvia fight, Arlovski made the mistake of rushing in and paid for it dearly. “The Pitbull” was looking to close the show and went for a flying knee. Fedor saw it coming and uncorked a short right hook that separated Arlovski’s soul from his body as his carcass fell from the sky like the Hindenburg.
Arlovski is still trying to figure out what happened on that fateful January evening.

Strikeforce: Lawler Vs Shields: 6/6/09
Loss Vs Brett Rogers: TKO (Punch) – :22 Rd 1

For all of the swift thrashings that Arlovski has handed out over the years, he was certainly due for one when he stepped into the cage against the then-unbeaten Brett Rogers. It was Rogers’ most difficult test to date, but apparently that only incensed the Team Bison fighter to tear apart “The Pitbull” in only a matter of seconds.

With Arlovski busy feeling Rogers out, he lazily shot a left inside leg kick in the direction of “The Grim.” Before Arlovski could figure out what happened, Rogers mugged him with a flurry of strikes filled with bad intentions. A menacing left hook, followed by an equally brutally right hook turned off the lights for Arlovski in only a matter of seconds.

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(Do you wanna be a f***in’ global magnate?)

Dana White dropped a bomb on the mixed martial arts industry and community Sunday when he announced that Zuffa had purchased Strikeforce. The UFC President been critical of the promotion before (see: Strikefarce) and reversed course quickly before as well (see: Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture). But while those close to the company were talking openly about the purchase for weeks, White & Co. managed to keep a lid on the deal until today and his announcement left MMA fans and pundits momentarily speechless. That moment was fleeting as people started weighing in on issues ranging from whether or not there would be UFC vs. Strikeforce superfights and if the companies would exchange fighter contracts. While these are valid questions, the conversation is focusing too much on immediate implications while ignoring the underlying causes for and far-reaching consequences of the purchase. So I humbly offer my analysis of why this deal went down and what it means for the fight game.

White mentioned several times in the 20-plus minute long interview that if UFC is to seriously pursue it’s plan for global expansion it needs more fighters, more staff, etc. On it’s face, the deal seems to offer Zuffa little in this regard; Strikeforce has never promoted a show outside of America and while it does have a number of noteworthy fighters under contract, its roster is quite limited compared to that of UFC. What Strikeforce can offer is access to Japanese fighters and close ties to influential figures in the flagging Japanese MMA industry. It’s no coincidence that as Japanese MMA is crumbling – DREAM have yet to announce a show and World Victory Road all but announced the end of its Sengoku series – Zuffa acquires an American MMA promotion that has close ties to K-1 and DREAM promoter Fighting and Entertainment Group. White’s blunt, macho approach plays well in the Middle East and the America’s, but he acknowledges that working in Japan has been problematic. In Coker, Zuffa now has a representative who can smooth ruffled feathers in the Land of the Rising Sun, and it can use Strikeforce as a neutral advance party to establish a foothold for live events in Japan. Add in the fact that Strikeforce can bring marketable Japanese stars like Satoshi Ishii (#21 Heavyweight), Shinya Aoki (#4 Lightweight), Tatsuya Kawajiri (#10 Lightweight) to the table and Zuffa will be able to make a much softer landing in Nippon.

Another point that White stressed during the interview was that the UFC and Strikeforce would continue to operate separately, even negotiating against each other for the same fighters. While this may be true for the term of Strikeforce’s current broadcast agreement with Showtime, White will not hesitate to pull the trigger on any decision that serves UFC’s short, medium, or long-term goals. If we learned anything from Zuffa’s ownership of WEC, it’s that the company will tolerate brand confusion among consumers as long as it serves a purpose. To test the market for sub-155# weight classes, for example, or produce shows in tertiary markets that can’t support UFC shows, or tie up air time on cable channels that are interested in broadcasting MMA. But at the end of the day, UFC is such a dominant brand that a majority of fans never really knew what WEC was, just as many fans of “UFC fighting” don’t know what a Strikeforce is or what it does. It’s naive to think that we’re more than a few years away from eulogizing Strikeforce as Zuffa transfers the fighters and staff it wants to UFC and retires the brand to the realm of nostalgic t-shirts.

The greatest long-term consequence of the dealt may be the disappearance of the MMA middle class, so to speak. There will be countless local shows, an amalgam of regional promotions airing on HDNet Fights, Bellator, and UFC, exponentially larger than any of its competitors, if you can really call them that. Fans are already speculating about the future of marquee fighters like Nick Diaz (#6 Welterweight), Paul Daley (#10 Welterweight), and Josh Barnett (#6 Heavyweight), and Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson (#2 Light Heavyweight), each of whom ran afoul of the UFC while under its employ. But no amount of personal animosity will prevent White & Co. from making a deal if the money makes sense, and frankly, everyone has a price. When the UFC is the only big show in town, a lot of fences will be mended. Either that or there will be a lot of people left out in the cold.

The purchase should also eventually allow Strikeforce’s world class talent to compete under the UFC umbrella. Dream matchups for Gilbert Melendez (#3 Lightweight), Ronaldo Souza (#3 Middleweight), Gegard Mousasi (#8 Light Heavyweight), Mo Lawal (#11 Light Heavyweight) as well as Fabricio Werdum, Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, DREAM Heavyweight Champion, and K-1 Grand Prix Champion Alistair Overeem, Antonio Silva, and Fedor Emelianenko – #2, #3, #4, and #9 respectively in FIGHT!’s Heavyweight Rankings – can be made on UFC cards and seen by millions world wide. Soon enough, there won’t be discussions about whether or not Melendez or Overeem can hang in the Octagon, because the proof will be in the pudding.

Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce probably left a number of fighters, managers, and fight promoters with a queasy feeling. MMA’s monolithic entity just got bigger by subtraction, removing it’s largest competitor from the field for the second time in the last five years. But if White’s statements about how his personal problems with M-1 Global and Showtime won’t prevent Zuffa from having healthy relationships with them is any indication, we might be witnessing the start of an era in which the UFC President picks his public battles more judiciously. With guys like Lorenzo Fertitta, former WEC exec Reed Harris and Strikeforce honcho Scott Coker playing diplomat to White’s gunslinger, the Baldfather will be free to act as the charismatic, fan-friendly face of the organization and Zuffa will be able to make deals with anyone, regardless of prior history or personal animosity. Agents, managers, and fighters will lose a lot of leverage when negotiating deals, but fans are always of two minds about fighter pay; every fan wants a fighter get his or her due, but only a small number of us get behind fighters when their contract disputes keep us from getting the fights we want to see.

Of course this is all speculation and only time will tell how the deal will shake out and what effect it will have on the sport. But based on the UFC’s recent history and current trajectory, it’s safe to assume that we’ll be seeing more fights in more places (both geographically and in terms of video delivery). We may see a further homogenization of the sport but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Excepting Major League Baseball’s outfield walls and the trapezoidal international basketball lane, all of the major sports are played in spaces with identical dimensions. Consistent rules, venues and branding are essential for the sport’s continued rapid growth and the continued disintegration of Japanese MMA and Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce set the stage for that.

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(Carano does pre-fight press at AKA.)
(Carano does pre-fight press at AKA.)

“I’m being invaded!” Carano bursts out laughing, throwing her hands up near her face like a classic over-actor.

The fighter has been the center of attention for weeks as she is the centerpiece of the promotional efforts for Strikeforce: Carano vs. Cyborg. Carano’’s fight against Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos will be the first female MMA fight to headline a televised MMA card. It will also represent the first female MMA championship bout in a major promotion. MMA fans and men’’s magazines are smitten with her or at least who they think she is, the hot chick who fights, but she’’s not so taken with herself.

Carano sits on the apron of the American Kickboxing Academy’’s ring and ruminates on fame, how she acquired it, and how it’s changed her.

“I think that this fame, this whole thing, being in the spotlight for this short amount of time has taught me so much about myself,”” says Carano. “”It’s made me have to answer questions that I actually had to think about and go home and be like, ‘Well, who am I?’ If I’m gonna be telling everybody who I am, I better figure that out.”

If you want to know who Gina Carano is, it’’s instructive to know what she wanted to be as a teenager. ““I wanted to be a drummer,”” she says. ““I wanted to be a drummer for like, a punk band.” She was especially fond of seminal hard-edged SoCal pop punk band Pennywise. ““I got kicked out of [a] Pennywise [show],”” she admits. For fighting? ““Underaged drinking,”” she says.

“I like to just goof off,”” says Carano. ““I was like that little girl that just like liked to goof off and have fun then when people started watching I was like, ‘Oh!’”'” she exclaims, sitting up straight, placing her hands on her thighs like the class clown who moonlights as a model student.

“I think God has a wonderful sense of humor and he’s kinda put me in this position to help me grow. And it really has,”” she says. ““I used to be so secluded and so, just like, just like anti-social, not because I had attitude or anything, but, I don’t know, everyone’s kind of different. That’s just the way I was.”

(Hercules, Hercules!)
(Hercules, Hercules!)

Carano is a giggler. It’s a nervous twitch, a defense mechanism to help a shy girl deal with the awkwardness of having the same conversation ten times with ten strangers. If she’s uncomfortable with the attention, her smile compounds the problem. It’s the reason why cameras love her. She loves them back, even if she’s not entirely comfortable with what they are focusing on.

“”I don’t think a lot of people ask Forrest Griffin who he’s dating. I’ve learned to just roll with it,”” says Carano. “”The only thing is —I get asked that question like probably every interview, ‘Are you single? Are you dating?’ So it’s out there a lot more.”

If Carano bests Santos on Showtime, a lot of her life will be out there a lot more. The fighter loves doing what she does and she even likes the attention a little, but that aspiring drummer still lurks inside of her, the young Gina who is content to toil in obscurity for the love of the craft.

“”Do I miss the days where it was just training and going on road trips to fight in front of 200 people in a ring like this,”” she asks, tapping the red mat she’s sitting on. “”Yeah. Its kind of like going to the old school punk shows, you know? There’s just everybody there and a mosh pit – —there’s really no rules. And then that band makes it big. You go to this huge arena and they’re still great, but it was just so much different then.”

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(Overeem drops UFC vet Todd Duffee with a short left to take the DREAM Heavyweight Championship on New Year’s Eve. Check out the full gallery here.)

While injuries, unexplained layoffs, and legal problems have put most of the UFC’s meaningful heavyweight fights in limbo for the time being, Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker is making hay while the sun shines. Yesterday, Strikeforce, M-1 Global, and Showtime Networks officially announced the quarterfinal match-ups of the much-rumored Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. The tournament, which will take place over several events throughout the year, features five fighters in the top 10 of FIGHT!’s Heavyweight Rankings, and seven in the top 25.

The first event will air live on Showtime from the IZOD Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey on Feb. 12, 2011, and will feature former PRIDE Heavyweight Champion Fedor Emelianenko (#2 Heavyweight) vs. Antonio Silva (#10) and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Andrei Arlovski (#27) vs. Sergei Kharitonov (#16). No other fights from the card have been rumored or announced at this time.

The other two quarterfinal bouts, which will take place at a yet-to-be-determined event this spring, will feature Strikeforce, DREAM, and K-1 Grand Prix Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem (#4) vs. Fabricio Werdum (#3) and former UFC Heavyweight Champion Josh Barnett (#6) vs. (Brett Rogers (#14).

“Strikeforce is home to the best heavyweight division in the world,” Scott Coker is quoted as saying in the press release. “The athlete who runs the gauntlet in a tournament such as this would have to be considered the best heavyweight fighter in the world.”

It is unclear at this time whether Overeem’

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Matthew Ross’ profile of Nick and Nate Diaz originally appeared in the Feb. 2008 issue of FIGHT! Magazine. Diaz will fight Marius Zaromskis for the vacant Strikeforce Welterweight Championship at Strikeforce: Miami on Jan. 30.

“These fighters are scary in a way that boxers and kick-boxers aren’t. They are savage…Whoever wins the fight, the unspoken signifier of victory is, I could have killed you. There are no excuses in the rules. If we were alone, in some back alley or on a deserted island, and we fought without all these people watching, then I could have killed you.” –Sam Sheridan, A Fighter’s Heart

Stockton, a small city in California’s San Joaquin Valley, is best known for its perpetually high crime rate (#2 nationally in auto thefts per capita as of 2005) and its ignominious distinction as the capital of the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007. There have been more foreclosures here than anywhere else in the country, and as I drive through the outskirts of town I notice a depressingly large number of “for sale” signs. The down and out quality of the place reminds me that Stockton was the setting for one of the greatest, grimmest boxing movies ever made: 1972’s Fat City. Poor cities breed fighters, and this place most definitely fits the bill.

Stockton also happens to be the city the fighting Diaz brothers, Nick and Nate, call home. Nick, 24, is by far the more accomplished fighter. During his tumultuous six years as a professional, Diaz has distinguished himself as much for his technical mastery of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and his lethal striking ability as he has for his reputation as an unpredictable rage machine incapable of drawing the line between athletic competition and all-out mortal combat. He’s floated in and out of various organizations (including two stints in the UFC), and while he’s taken out some of MMA’s most fearsome warriors, mainstream stardom and a major championship have continued to elude him, thanks to a series of controversial losses as well as a penchant for bad behavior. But while Nick’s outrageous behavior hasn’t endeared him to sponsors or promotional companies, his performances inside the ring, coupled with a slew of infamous acts outside it, have made him something of a legend among hardcore fight fans.

The 22-year-old Nate may not boast the same giant-killing résumé as his older brother and mentor, but he may be better known to the casual fan. Earlier this year, Nate appeared on The Ultimate Fighter reality series, eventually winning the show’s lightweight championship against the talented Manny Gamburyan (who submitted in the second round after injuring his shoulder). Like Nick, Nate is a BJJ prodigy who likes to bang. But so far, the up-and-coming lightweight has done his talking in the ring, not out of it.

The Diaz boys live with their mother, Melissa, in a modest two-story house on the outskirts of town. I arrive at their place on a chilly November afternoon, and Nick answers the door. The first thing I notice about Nick are his brows, or to be more specific, the scar tissue that covers them. Diaz suffers from a double whammy of bad genetics for a professional fighter: prominent bone structure and skin that cuts easily.

Those unfortunate facts of his physiology explain why, on this particular day, he isn’t in the best of spirits. Two weeks earlier, Nick suffered perhaps the most frustrating loss of his career, when the ring doctor stopped his televised live bout on Showtime against KJ Noons for the EliteXC 160 lb. championship during the first round. Noons, a camera-ready former pro boxer that EliteXC promoter Gary Shaw has been pushing heavily as a future star, opened up a pair of nasty cuts over both of Nick’s eyes, leaving the ring doctor with little choice but to stop the fight.

Upon hearing the doctor’s verdict, Nick promptly stormed out of the ring with both middle fingers raised high in the air, while Noons jumped around as if he had just won the lottery. I asked Nick about the fight, and he responds quickly and emphatically, “That guy was a munchkin. He thinks he’s a pro boxer, fuck it, I’ll fight him in straight boxing, I don’t care. He’s nothing special.” To prevent this type of stoppage from occurring again, Nick will be going under the knife to remove scar tissue and shave down the bones over his eyes in an effort to reduce his chances of getting cut.

It wasn’t the first time Nick was on the wrong end of a frustrating loss. His current professional record stands at 15-7, but those numbers are deceiving. With the exception of an early knockout loss to Jeremy Jackson (a loss that he avenged twice, once by TKO and once by submission) none of Diaz’s defeats have been decisive. And most have come in the UFC, against heavily promoted stars like Sean Sherk (April ’06), Karo Parisyan (August ’04), Diego Sanchez (November ’05), and Joe Riggs (February ’06).

After spending a few hours watching these fights with Nick, I soon come to understand why he spends much of his free time researching conspiracy theories on the internet. With the exception of Sanchez, who scored multiple takedowns throughout their 2005 bout, I find it difficult to comprehend how any of the judges gave Riggs, Sherk, or Parisyan more than one round.

Had Diaz won any of those fights, he would have been firmly in contention for a shot at the welterweight title. Cesar Gracie, who has been training Nick and Nate since they were teenagers, is certain that his prized student isn’t simply the victim of bad luck at the judges’ table. “I know for a fact that there are judges in the UFC who have it out for Nick,” Gracie tells me. “One of the judges told a friend of mine that he’d never vote for Nick Diaz in a close fight because he doesn’t like his attitude.”

I ask Nick about how he’s dealt with the losses. “Bottom line is, if it was a fight to the death, in every one of those [close decisions], I’m the one who would have walked out of that cage,” Nick tells me. “[In each fight] that son of a bitch wouldn’t have made it out, but I would have. I could see it in his eyes, I could hear it in the way that he was breathing, I could tell.”

The Riggs fight provided MMA junkies with yet another classic Nick Diaz anecdote. After the fight, both fighters were sent to the hospital for evaluation, and Diaz began taunting Riggs from his hospital bed. While accounts vary on the outcome of the impromptu fourth round, all agree that hospital security had to be called in to break the two men apart.

When Diaz wins, he tends to do so in spectacular fashion, especially when he’s the underdog. On April 2, 2004, Diaz faced off against Robbie Lawler, a young Pat Miletich stud with knockout power in both hands. In the days leading up to the fight, the general consensus was that Nick’s only option was to take the fight to the ground and work for a submission.

Instead, he decided to outstrike the striker. From the opening bell, Diaz simply outclassed the wild slugger with his superior boxing technique. When Lawler began to back off, Diaz openly taunted him. Midway through the second, Lawler attacked, and Diaz countered with a textbook right hook to the jaw. Lawler fell face first onto the canvas, and the fight was over.

The most impressive performance of Diaz’s career has, not surprisingly, been overshadowed by controversy. On February 4, 2007, Diaz faced off against Japanese phenom Takanori Gomi on the PRIDE 33 card in Las Vegas. Just as he did with Lawler, Diaz chose to stand and trade blows. By the end of the second round, Diaz was picking Gomi apart, and when the bell sounded, the PRIDE superstar was nearly out on his feet. In the third round, a visibly exhausted Gomi took the fight to the ground. Within seconds, Diaz locked a gogoplata, a rarely used submission that had only been pulled off once before in a PRIDE ring. Diaz’s victory celebration didn’t last long. After the fight, his urine sample came back positive for marijuana – lots of it. The usual cutoff for a positive sample is 50, and Diaz weighed in at a whopping 175. The victory was offi cially changed to a no-contest, and Nick was suspended from fighting for six months.

Diaz makes no attempt to conceal his fondness for marijuana and its medicinal benefits. “I think smoking weed is good for you,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’ve always smoked it, especially in the days leading up to fighting. I’ve given them dirty piss for every fucking test, and I never tested positive for anything. I don’t know why, but someone just decided to test for marijuana before the Gomi fight.”

It should be noted that despite his fondness for the kind bud, Nick follows a training routine that would leave most of the sport’s elite gasping for air on the side of the road. When I ask him what he does for fun besides look up weird shit on the internet, he gives me a one-word answer: triathlons.

Later, I asked Nate what makes his brother tick. “He’s serious about everything,” said Nate. “I guess he’s crazy. With Nick, it ain’t no act. That’s who he is. And he don’t take shit from anybody. Growing up, Nick had friends, but he rolled solo a lot. And he had a lot more fights than I had. People would just fuck with him, and then he’d flip out. He didn’t get along with bullies or football players.”

Nate initially started training in MMA to help Nick prepare for his early fights as a pro, and big brother remains the unquestioned alpha dog of the house. Yet while Nate may not share Nick’s maniacal devotion to training and his aversion to anything resembling small talk, Nate is a dedicated professional who puts long hours in the gym (including triathlon work) and takes care of business in the ring. “Nate’s a friendly guy, and just as loyal to the people who care about him as Nick is, but he’s a little more open of a person,” Gracie tells me. “I really love Nate’s fighting style. He’s no-nonsense, come in, get your business done, and go home kind of guy.” In his last bout, Nate, who currently holds a purple belt in Gracie BJJ, tapped out black belt Junior Assuncao in the first round of a SpikeTV Ultimate Fight Night card.

Later that night, I accompany the Diaz boys to Phillip Torres’ Pacific Coast Martial Arts gym in downtown Stockton for their regular nighttime workout. While Nate rolls with a much bigger man inside the gym’s octagon, Nick, who’s sporting a badly swollen right knee and a face that’s still healing from the Noons fight, spends most of his time on the mat, showing a group of training partners how to set up a submission attempt from the guard. It immediately becomes clear to me that while Diaz may be something of a social misfit outside the gym, he’s a very effective and engaging instructor who genuinely loves showing people what he knows. I couldn’t imagine what Nick and his short fuse would have become had he not discovered Jiu-Jitsu around the same time he was getting kicked out of high school. Thankfully, Nick never got a chance to find out.

The next morning, I stop by the Diaz house on my way out of town. Nick, in a rare moment of self-reflection, tells me about his love for the sport that has occupied nearly every second of his waking life for the past eight years. “I’m not asking to get paid millions of dollars,” Nick tells me. “What’s so wrong about me being able to just fight and not have to hear anybody’s bullshit and not have to deal with a boss? When I was in school, I had teachers telling me, ‘You’re not going to amount to much; you’re not going to get a job.’ And now people want to hear what I have to say. They want to learn Jiu-Jitsu from me.”

At this point, Nick’s standing in the MMA universe is tenuous. He currently has one fight remaining on his EliteXC contract, and it may very well be a rematch with Gomi. If that doesn’t happen, Nick may take another shot at UFC glory, or just continue to float between various promotions in search of big game. Whatever the case, Nick’s confidence – and his fight game – will remain right where it has been for a long time: sky high. I asked Nick if he was put on this earth to be a fi ghter, and his response was unequivocal,

“I was born to make an attempt to be the greatest fighter in the world.” It remains to be seen if Nick ( or Nate for that matter) will ever get a chance to make good on these ambitious goals, but as I leave the blue collar grimness of Stockton I come away with one overriding impression; don’t fuck with the Diaz Brothers.

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Following each episode of The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights, Team Rampage member Abe Wagner will share his thoughts on what happened on camera and behind the scenes.

The most notable thing that this week starts off with is the bug that “attacks” Marcus. It was the scariest bug I’ve ever seen in real life. I didn’t know what it was when I was there, but some clever use of Google once I got back to the real world and had internet access revealed that it was a Sun Spider aka ‘Wind Scorpion.’ Google it yourself if you want to see the scary-ass bug in detail for yourself. It has what looks like ten legs and four jaws. They call it the Wind Scorpion because it moves like the wind, so in addition to being ridiculously scary looking, it’s also super fast.

When they showed someone throwing the dead bug on Marcus and Marcus jumping up and freaking out, it was Rampage that threw it on him on one of the times he came to the house to hang out with us. I’m not sure why they didn’t show that it was him that did it, maybe him being at the house didn’t fit with whatever storyline they are trying to show. But from a personal standpoint, I find it interesting that they didn’t show Rampage being the one to do it.

Then we came home from practice one night and there were pictures drawn of Marcus and put up on the window. I thought the drawing was in good fun and just some playful humor, but I don’t have kids. So while I do think that Marcus overreacted a bit, considering that he has small children that are for sure watching the show, you could see where he might not be as ok with it as someone who didn’t have kids would be. In a bit of foreshadowing, he vows to rip the guy who wrote that’s arm off.

Going into the fight, everyone was talking about the size difference between the two fighters, but while Marcus is six inches taller than Wessel, Wessel is really thick and the two weighed in at 262 and 260, respectively; only a two pound weight difference.

The fight happened really fast, with a lot of position exchanged on the ground in a short time, but ultimately Marcus pulled out an arm bar (following through on his earlier vow) and won the first fight for Team Rampage. From where we all were standing, we thought the Mike’s arm was broken for sure, but later we’d find out that it wasn’t. In real life, it looked pretty bad.

After the second round of match up announcements, Rashad asked all of Team Rampage if we wanted to come over and train with them to help their guys get ready. What you have to realize is that in this social dynamic and situation, there really is no option here. Hypothetically if you did go over and train with the other team, you wouldn’t truly be treated as a full member of their team, and your actual team would make you an outcast too for going outside of them. Effectively, you’d be removing yourself from any group while you were there. So while I think in principal that it was a good idea by Rashad, given the social experiment that we were in the middle of, nobody was in a position to train with the other team if they wanted to. Also, I felt like we would be just used as bodies for their fighters as opposed to being able to learn from the other coaches while we were there. So ultimately we all declined and stuck together as a team.

Next week starts the quarter finals and these are some of the best fights of the season.

Visit AbeWagnerFights for more.

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Last December, Gilbert Melendez regained the Strikeforce lightweight belt and avenged one of two losses on his record when he beat Josh “The Punk” Thomson in a lopsided decision win.

Four months later, Gilbert and his girlfriend, Kari-Ann, discovered they were about to have a baby girl. FIGHT! was there document Melendez’s reaction to that day’s news in part 1 of this FIGHT! Life series.

Produced and directed by Matthew Ross. Camera: Marc Rizzo and Randy Ward. Edited by Ryan Jackson-Healy and Ashley Cahill. Music by Jacques Brautbar.

Go here to see more FIGHT! videos!

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