Ultimate Fighting Championship

Ultimate Fighting Championship

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(Nelson goes toe-to-two with Brad Imes. Props to ESPN.com.)
(Nelson goes toe-to-two with Brad Imes. Props to ESPN.com.)

The upcoming season of The Ultimate Fighter is going to be one of the most prospect rich installments the Zuffa machine has ever produced.

With the UFC getting ready to promote a future “black-on-black crime” (“Rampage” Jackson’s own words) showdown between coaches and former light heavyweight champions Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, the theme of the tenth season is going to focus entirely on heavyweight fighters.

Like previous seasons, there are some big name mixed martial artists moving into the TUF House such as YouTube Superstar Kimbo Slice, former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Marcus Jones and former New York Giant Matt Mitrione. There are also some legit threats that have danced in the big show before including Scott Junk and Wes Sims.

But perhaps the most startling revelation is the addition of Roy Nelson and his ultra bodacious stomach. In fact, Nelson, the last IFL Heavyweight Champion, is the only fighter entering the house with the distinction of both fighting former UFC titleholder Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovksi and having been ranked in the top ten at one time or another.

Clearly, “Big Country” is the odds on favorite to bring home the TUF trophy and the six-figure contract. But one has to wonder if this could be the first season in history where a winner instantly becomes a top ten contender.

Sure, there have been several mixed martial artists like Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez who improved their skill set over time and earned placement on most people’s top ten lists. Earning top ten status after becoming victorious at the finale, however, is unheard of.

Could this be the season to change that ideology? Maybe.

As of now, it’s already established that Nelson has the highest ranking of any heavyweight present on the show. But the fact is one can safely rank 14 mixed martial artists outside the house ahead of Nelson. Those men include (and in no particular order): Fedor Emelianenko, Aleksander Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers, Alistair Overeem, Jeff Monson, Brock Lesnar, Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Minatoro Nogeuira, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez and Ben Rothwell. Then there are fighters such as Gilbert Yvel, Cheick Kongo, Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum and Mirko Cro Cop who are on the bubble.

At worst, Roy Nelson just makes the Top 20. Since finalists need three straight victories in six weeks to make it to the grandiose TUF Finale, “Big Country” could probably move up in rank if he demolishes the competition. Then again, if someone else were to win or demolish Roy Nelson, then the UFC has a dangerous new star on their hands.

While the winner, whoever he may be, won’t make any publication or website’s overall consensus top ten list, chances are they’ll be a top ten ranked UFC heavyweight contender and might be a few fights away before getting a title shot.

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ufc_on_versus_3

On March 3, the UFC will visit Kentucky for the first time when UFC on Versus: Sanchez vs. Kampmann goes down at the KFC Yum! Center, the new state-of-the-art riverside home of the University of Louisville men’s basketball team. The card will obviously be headlined by a bout between Diego Sanchez (#23 Welterweight) and Martin Kampmann (#8) with a co-main event of Mark Munoz (#21 Middleweight) vs. CB Dollaway (#7). Go here to view a full lineup of announced and rumored bouts.

“Diego Sanchez and Martin Kampmann are two fighters who always go for broke, so this should be a great fight,” UFC President Dana White is quoted as saying in the press release. “Both of these guys feel they belong at the top of the welterweight division and they’ll have a chance to prove it on March 3. The same goes for Munoz and Dolloway. They push the pace and look to finish fights and both want to fight the best middleweights out there. We’re really excited to bring a card like this to Louisville.”

Tickets go on sale Fri., Jan. 14, and the event will air live on VERSUS at 9 p.m. EST/6 p.m. PST. Tickets are priced at $200, $150, $125, $80 and $40. Tickets can be purchased in person at the KFC Yum! Center, Kentucky Exposition Center, Kentucky International Convention Center Box Offices or at any Ticketmaster outlet. Tickets can also be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com or over the phone by calling 1-800-745-3000. UFC Fight Club members will have the opportunity to purchase tickets to this event on Weds., Jan. 12 at 10 a.m. EST on Ufcfightclub.com. A special Internet ticket pre-sale will be available to UFC newsletter subscribers on Thurs., Jan. 13 starting at 10 a.m. EST. To access this pre-sale, users must register for the UFC newsletter through UFC.com.

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dana_white
(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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Mike Straka, formerly of Fox Fight Game and now the host of Fighting Words on HDNet, is in Newark, N.J. covering UFC 111 on behalf of FIGHT! At the weigh-ins he caught up with a slew of MMA personalities, including Frankie Edgar, Renzo Gracie, Jon Jones, Greg Jackson, Phil Nurse, Rachelle Leah, and Dana White. Check out all the videos on FIGHT!’s YouTube Channel and be sure to follow FIGHT! on Twitter, where Straka will be guest Tweeting live from “The Rock” on Saturday night!

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SAN DIEGO, Calif. — Jon Jones mopped up Vladimir “The Janitor” Matyushenko just eight ticks shy of two minutes at the San Diego Sports for UFC on Versus II.

Everyone gave Matyushenko a snowball’s chance in Las Vegas and expected “Bones” to perform in dominating fashion like he did. Jones moved to 5-1 inside the Octagon and 11-1 overall—the lone smudge on his perfect record a disqualification against Matt Hamill. At a glance, it appears the fight was a lateral movement for Jones, adding no higher trajectory to his rising star. However, the New York native’s second headlining bout pointed to a variety of factors that prove the bout was a pivotal contest for Jones.

The 23-year-old took center cage in an Anderson Silvaesque stance. Like kids trying to emulate their favorite baseball player’s swings, the New York mimicked “The Spider” in a live environment against a tough veteran and it worked. He absorbs and executes what he sees. Judo, for example, he’s picked up from YouTube. There’s no reward with risk, fun without creativity or winning without technique and Jones has struck a balance between all.

He realized the expectations surrounding him and made adjustments to ensure he’d live up to those expectations. Jones refused to underestimate the Belarusian despite being given every reason by media and fans to believe he was markedly better than the former IFL Light Heavyweight Champion. Greg Jackson’s team expressed Jones’ biggest strides in the Matyushenko camp were as a person. In an individual sport, the most dangerous combatant can be oneself—Jones has fended off defeating himself through humility and dedication.

Jones has been wisely brought up through the ranks slowly by the UFC, allowing him to progress as a fighter. What’s missing from the equation has been an opponent to push Jones inside the cage. Without seeing how Jones handles real adversity in a fight, it’s too soon to punch his ticket for a title shot.

Winning, and doing so convincingly, necessitates fighters move toward the belt, especially with the backing of fans like Jones enjoys. But the UFC needs to continue its steady path with him. The UFC requires its Chuck Liddell’s and Jones is clearly emerging as a staple star. Rushing into a title fight isn’t worth the risk of forcing Jones before he’s ready. After all, he admittedly just started maturing as a person and a fighter.

Jones is clamoring for a test inside the cage though. Without jumping into title bouts, a returning Thiago Silva is a stern challenge or a fight with the winner of Tito Ortiz-Matt Hamill can benefit Jones. Ortiz’s divisive personality can elevate Jones, while a rematch with a much-improved Hamill would give Jones an opportunity to eradicate the lone loss on his record no matter how dubious.

Okami On Point

Perennial contender Yushin Okami bested standout wrestler Mark Munoz via split decision. “Thunder” showcased his most complete game to date as he’s refined his passive style into a patient defensive, counter style with strong bursts of offense standing, clinching and grappling. Dana White’s recent remarks that he’s warming up to an Okami title shot should hold more weight now. A fight with Vitor Belfort or Chris Leben could serve as number one contender contests.

Ellenberger Asks for Top Welterweights

Jake Ellenberger swelled John Howard’s eye so bad Howard could have been cast a zombie in a movie without any makeup. It’s the welterweight’s second consecutive UFC stoppage and the Reign Training Center product feels ready to step up in competition. A chance at Mike Swick would be the right step for the 25-year-old.

Gomi’s Fireball

Former PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi lit up Tyson Griffin with a right hook 64 seconds into his second UFC fight, scoring his first UFC victory. It’s the first time in 18 fights Griffin’s night ended early and given Griffin’s consistent spot near the top of the division, “The Fireball Kid” is one of few marketable challengers for the 155-pound crown. A shot at the loser of Frankie Edgar-B.J. Penn II or a scrap with Clay Guida could clarify if Gomi is ready for a return for prominence.

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According to Sam Caplan, Kenny Florian is one of the least intimidating fighters in MMA. No matter, because he finishes fights – enough of them to earn a shot at BJ Penn’s lightweight title at UFC 101: Declaration. In addition to his day job as a top-ranked UFC lightweight and instructor at Florian Martial Arts and his side gig as the co-host of ESPN’s MMA Live, Florian is a sometime-contributor to FIGHT! Magazine. Two of his columns have found their way online – one about his progression as a mixed martial artist and another about killer instinct. When you’re through with those, check out FIGHT!’s Florian photos here.

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Brendan Schaub
Age: 26
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 240 lbs
Hometown: Aurora, Colo.
Trains: Denver, Colo. at High Altitude Martial Arts / T’s KO Fight Club
MMA record: 4-0

A product of Aurora, Colo., Brendan Schaub wanted to be a fighter ever since he saw the Jean Claude Van Damme classic “Bloodsport” at an early age. Since then, he has made martial arts an integral part of his conditioning regimen between football and lacrosse seasons, both sports in which Schaub was an All-State performer while at Overland High School. After high school, Schaub gave up the hopes of being a modern day Jim Brown, quitting lacrosse to focus on football when he was awarded a full scholarship to play fullback for the University of Colorado’s football team.

He did not, however, give up martial arts. Schaub practiced Tae Kwon Do between football seasons to stay in shape, and help the Buffaloes capture the Big 12 North crown three of his four years on campus before graduating in 2006.

After graduating, Schaub played in the Arena Football League for the Utah Blaze and was on the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad before returning to his native Colorado to begin training mixed martial arts full-time. He captured the Colorado Golden Gloves boxing crown and was awarded a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu shortly thereafter.

Schaub, who splits his time training between T’s KO Fight Club in Colorado and Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts in New Mexico, made his mixed martial arts debut in 2008. He has since compiled a 4-0 record, all wins coming by knockout less than 90 seconds into the bout.

Learn more about the cast of “The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweights.”

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(Shot and edited by Rick Lee.)

Fan-favorite UFC Lightweight Clay Guida (#7 Lightweight) talks about his family, his blue collar work ethic, and living in an RV down by the river. Guida will face a resurgent Takanori Gomi (#15) at UFC 125: Resolution on New Year’s Day. The winner will likely put himself in line for a shot at the UFC Lightweight Championship, which will be on the line the same night when Frank Edgar (#1) defends the belt against Gray Maynard (#5), the only man to defeat him in MMA.

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MMA power broker Ed Soares talks about Black House, the private Los Angeles training facility for his clients – Ultimate Fighting Championship belt-holders Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida, former Pride and UFC champ Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, his brother Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and hot prospect Junior Dos Santos – and discusses what changes he’d like to see in the fight game.

Go here to watch more videos from Black House.

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Got an MMA question? Send it to Peptalk@ProMMARadio.com and take your shot at winning a very cool FIGHT! T-shirt! And yes, you can send in as many questions as you want and can enter every week.

Fine Mir?

When Frank Mir went on a Pittsburgh radio show and said he wanted Brock Lesnar to suffer the first death due to Octagon-related injuries and wanted to break his neck he set the sport back years. Mir is classless for saying that and should be fined by the UFC. Don’t they have to do something to make sure that guys don’t say things like this can set us back?

Nick Davidson
New Jersey

Had a feeling we’d be getting a question on this topic!

Were Mir’s comments over the top? Sure. Do I think Brock makes his skin crawl? Yep. Do I sincerely think he wants to kill Brock? No. I remember sitting with Frank at a media event after we found out that the champ was ill and Frank publicly stated that he hoped Brock fully recovered because he knew he was a father and wanted him to be able to be there his family and provide for them.

I had the chance to interview Frank on Tuesday night after he apologized and get his perspective on the whole thing – check out what he had to say here.

Five Round Non-Title Fights

I read somewhere last year that the UFC had applied to the athletic commission for the right to host 5 round non-title main events & that they had won. Now I’m not sure if that’s true & obviously we haven’t seen any yet if they did, but it sounds like a great idea to me. It wouldn’t have made any difference this weekend but could have made the Randy-Vera & Rashad-Silva, both recent main events, far more interesting.

Neil S.
Australia

I hadn’t heard that the UFC applied to the athletic commission to host five-round non-title fights and I’d be very surprised if they did because Dana White is opposed to the idea. In fact, he reiterated that opposition this past weekend at UFC 110. I agree with Dana. I like the idea that title fights have a different structure by adding the “championship rounds”. It adds something to the mystique and what’s at stake when a belt is on the line. Additionally, how would the UFC decide which main event fights would be designated as five rounders? While it would have been irrelevant in the Velasquez/Nogueira fight, it would have been relevant in the fights you mentioned. Would every main event be a five rounder? Personally, I’ve seen just as many three round fights that I was glad to see come to a close as fights that I’d want to see continue. In fact, probably more. The sense of urgency that comes from a three round limit is preferable to me as well. Getting ready for five rounds is a much taller order for a fighter and I question if we’d see guys pacing themselves more. Last but not least, the UFC sometimes books four fights on the main card when there is a five round title affair on the card, and most fans would rather know they are getting more guaranteed fights on a non-championship Pay Per View, so I think there is a business element to keeping things the way they are that makes sense as well.

George a Contender?

I was really impressed with George Sotiropolos beating Joe Stevenson at 110. With his BJJ, I’d like to see him fight BJ Penn if he beats Frankie Edgar. The guy is 5-0 in the UFC now, so why not? Do you think it’s too soon or is he ready for a title shot?

Jonathan
Kansas

sotiropoulos_stevenson
(John O’Neill / Special to FIGHT!)

It would be hard not to be impressed with George’s performance against Joe. His grappling skills are top notch, particularly his transitions between positions. His standup in this fight looked considerably improved as well. That being said, I’m not prepared to say that he is ready for a title shot just yet. Yes, Mary, the win runs George’s UFC record to 5-0, but his four previous opponents were Billy Miles, Roman Mitichyan, George Roop and Jason Dent, none of whom are still with the UFC. Add in that Joe Stevenson has lost to BJ Penn, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez at 155 and there’s an argument at this point that he may be as much gatekeeper to the upper echelon of the division as top contender right now. In beating Joe Daddy, George put himself in the mix at 155, but he’ll have to start beating the likes of Florian, Gray Maynard and/or Tyson Griffin to get a shot at the belt.

Bisping Should Have Won

How the hell did Wandy win the Bisping fight. I thought Mike landed more strikes and was the aggressor and Wandy only had two moments with the guillotine at the end of round two and the knockdown at the end of round three. Can that be enough to win a 15 minute fight?

Daniel M.

silva_winner
(John O’Neill / Special to FIGHT!)

It can when the rest of the fight was as close as it was. I happened to agree with the judges and gave the fight to Wanderlei, 29-28. I thought Bisping took the first round, while Wand took rounds two and three. Both of those rounds were very close, until the closing moments when Silva almost submitted Michael at the end of round two and knocked him down with seconds to go in the fight. If Bisping had been decisively beating Silva early in those rounds, I would agree with you but those particular rounds were razor thin before the closing moments when Silva excelled. However, a closer look at the Compustrike numbers reveals that Wand actually landed 25 more total strikes in a largely standup battle where neither fighter did much damage on the ground except for Silva’s close guillotine attempt.

Your question brings something else to mind, Daniel. After UFC 104 when Lyoto Machida scored a very close, somewhat controversial decision over Mauricio Shogun Rua, Dana White spoke about the need to turn it on at the end of rounds to steal a close round. He even referenced that boxers do it all the time and that MMA fighters would have to get hip to that strategy. Sounds like the Axe Murderer was listening.

Larry Pepe is the host of Pro MMA Radio.

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