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There is never a shortage of articles on fighters making waves in the industry. The up-and-comer, the long-reigning champ or the contenders on the cusp of super-stardom always dominate headlines. There is, however, an entirely opposite side of the fight spectrum: the fighter on the downturn. After losing a few fights a fighter can find themselves in limbo; wondering what their stock will be in an industry that is constantly moving forward. This crossroads has a diverse effect on fighters at different levels in the fight business and the outcome can be dramatic.

Wanderlei Silva: Never say die

Record: 32-9-1

Notable Appearances: UFC, PRIDE

The Axe Murderer is 1-4 in the last 3 years. It sounds almost incomprehensible considering his incredible legacy. He has seen more losses than wins in the UFC, most recently losing an incredible war to Chuck Liddell and taking a dose of knockout vengeance from “Rampage” Jackson. Critics claim his best years have came and went, but there is one thing that can never be taken away from him: MMA loves Wandy. He has decided to drop to a catch-weight of 195 pounds to take on former Middleweight champ Rich Franklin. He even insists that he will drop to middleweight if a new weight class isn’t created after this next fight. Silva may be immune to the greater effects of losing simply because he is an institution in Mixed Martial Arts. His never say die spirit and blue chip credentials will keep him in the game until he chooses to hang up his gloves.

Chuck Liddell: A Veteran’s Tribute

Record: 21-6

Notable Appearances: UFC, PRIDE

Chuck Liddell may be the exception to the rule, and for good reason: he is a mega-star. He has been the face of MMA for years now and has consistently been a successful draw for he UFC. Despite dropping three of his last four fights (being knocked out twice) Chuck is still a headliner. His next fight is a co-main event slot against “Shogun” Rua. Early odds will likely favor Chuck in that fight. He has been a major flag carrier for the UFC and a clear fan favorite. For that, UFC President Dana White shows him respect and never counts him out. The biggest hurdle Chuck has to face in the downward slope is criticism of his predictable techniques and retirement talk. His counter style suits that question well as Chuck has stated on many occasions he will not make his decision to hang up his gloves in the ring. And he may silence critics of his training methods after a short stint with American Top Team. It is good to be the Iceman- win or lose.

Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou: The Icarus Syndrome

Record: 5-4

Notable appearances: PRIDE, UFC, Affliction

Sokoudjou is possibly one of the fastest rise-to-stardom stories in MMA today.

After back-to-back knockouts of Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona, he was on nearly every top ten list in MMA circles. But after going 1-2 (being finished twice) in the UFC, Sokoudjou was let go. Affliction secured him for their “Day of Reckoning” show against Renato Sobral only to be tapped via choke in round two. Now Thierry is nearly a .500 fighter. Perhaps Sokoudjou was flying too high too fast. Sokoudjou now has one option: win and win big. He has decided to go all in with his next fight, returning to Japan against DREAM middleweight phenomenon Gegard Mousasi. A gamble this big could thrust Sokoudjou back into the spotlight and keep his name on the tongues of the MMA pundits.

Joe Stevenson: At the Gates

Record: 29-10

Notable Appearances: UFC, King of the Cage

There is a term in MMA that fighters meet with either a bit of pride or dread: gatekeeper. It can mean you are an established fighter who others will have to go through to be considered contenders. That definition gives it a touch of reverence. But gatekeeper can also mean you may never be seen as a title contender again, something no fighter works hard for everyday in the gym. Joe Stevenson is a deserved contender, but unfortunately for “Daddy”, the moniker of gatekeeper may be solidified as he recently dropped a decision to light weight newcomer Diego Sanchez. Knowing Joe’s heart and work ethic, he will use his TUF 9 Finale fight against Nate Diaz to make the long climb back to the top.

Matt Lindland: The Hero’s Journey

Record: 21-6

Notable Appearances: UFC, IFL, Bodog, Affliction

Matt Lindland is the journeyman fighter’s figurehead. He goes where the money is and proves the point that you don’t need to be tied to exclusive contracts to gain notoriety. He has existed in the upper echelon of middleweight rankings for years. Being a journeyman may be starting to work against him however. Fighting only once in 2008 in a less-than-inspiring match and then being knocked out against Vitor Belfort at January’s Affliction card has critics wondering if his time is up as a contender in the middleweight division. It is without a doubt that the tough-as-nails Linland will be looking to keep his name fresh on the minds of promoters across the globe by picking up the pieces and accepting any and all comers in the future. Such is the code of a fighter’s journey.

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“What do you think of him?” Scott Coker asks, consistent in his eye contact.

He was promoting fights before The Karate Kid made it cool. Why does the founder and CEO of Strikeforce care what I think? He’s forgotten more about martial arts than I know. And it’s my job to know about mixed martial arts. So I mull it over and offer my opinion on Kevin Randleman.

He’s a freak athlete — a scary fighter. He’s also inconsistent. He’s either dominant or he fades, and he’s as prone to injury as he is controversy. To answer the real question, though, I’d love to see him fight in Strikeforce.

Coker nods. I realize he operates his business on the casual-conversation level. Just a few weeks later, rumors ran all over the Internet that “The Monster” had signed with Strikeforce. It was like Coker, who insists he makes fights by talking with friends, was winking at me. Reports turned out to be false — they are only negotiating — and he and I aren’t friends, but his get-things-done approach has earned Coker and Strikeforce fans.

Fight interviews tend to be cut and dry, so when I interviewed Ken Hershman, the senior VP and general manager of sports and event programming for Showtime, I was surprised he held me up on the phone to praise Coker’s personality above all else.

UFC President Dana White is MMA’s perpetual expletive. Thus, Coker’s mellow approach has won him the role of White’s foil. Showtime and CBS-TV broadcasting deals, coupled with Strikeforce’s financially sound approach to fighting, also differentiate it from the now defunct WFA, IFL, and EliteXC, which sold its remaining assets to Strikeforce.

“I don’t think respect was a two-way street,” Coker reveals about collaborating with EliteXC, a settlement reached due to Frank Shamrock’s dual affiliation. They were a stark contrast: Coker doesn’t have 20 people for one task; he has one person for 20 tasks while EliteXC had entourages. Coker won’t go into details about the lack of respect — confrontation is not his style.

It’s exactly why he hasn’t targeted the UFC like the other fledgling-turned-failed organizations. The UFC has packaged a counterprogram (at least that’s how it’s perceived) to Strikeforce’s first Showtime foray on April 11. It may signal the UFC senses a rival. However, it won’t prompt Coker to start a war of words with White. And a rival is a world apart from an enemy.

Whether he holds friend or foe status related to the UFC, Coker has tunnel vision. He responds to the idea of a Strikeforce reality show with an answer typical of his disposition:

“That’s a whole another business on its own,” he says, “but my main worry right now is April 11.”

That is to say there is business for now and business for later. Now may not be more important than later, but it’s what needs to be taken care of immediately. Maybe that’s why an expected confrontation with the UFC hasn’t arrived since Strikeforce asserted itself in MMA. Unless the UFC is working with Strikeforce, they are not even later—they are parallel.

But Coker comes to the one definitive statement about clashing with the UFC: Cung Le versus Anderson Silva.

“That would be a much better fight than everyone thinks,” Coker says, lamenting that the UFC doesn’t have a co-promotion model.

He picks his Middleweight champion to win. Le, he explains, has better wrestling and striking. He’s deceivingly good and would win the bout against the UFC Middleweight king standing. It’s a fan’s assessment, it seems, yet there’s no fan-boy fluctuation in his voice, no diatribe against Silva. That is simply how Coker sees it.

He should know, too, because he claims to be the UFC’s biggest fan. Like most of Coker’s stories, they start far away from his home base of San Jose, Calif. He was in Florida for Super Bowl XLIII. Arriving the day Georges St. Pierre took center cage against B.J. Penn for a second time, his wife hurried him, interrupting their dinner so they could watch the fights. His love for the sport has infected his household. They watch it all and TiVo it if they can’t.

He even watches White’s video blogs.

Again, distinctions between Coker and White emerge. He’s older than White, and “3 or 4 months ago I didn’t even know what a video blog was.” The Korean native continues on with a surprised tone when I ask if his newfound visibility in MMA will bring about Scott Coker video blogs.

“When I figure out how to work the computer right, I’ll let you know,” he says, laughing.

In keeping up with the UFC product, Coker understands that “their league can only handle so many fighters.” It’s a room-for-everybody attitude — one rare for business and unique in a sport where one must emerge victorious.

Trying to decode Coker’s Phil Jackson-like demeanor is difficult but ultimately unnecessary. Despite more than 2 decades of promoting combat sports, he’s quick to admit he’s still learning.

“I’ll tell you this. Before I got into MMA, all my deals were handshake deals,” Coker says.

One particular argument with a manager — again, he won’t go into specifics — paints Coker with a disappointed look. Now, every agreement “definitely” needs a piece of paper attached. This results from MMA’s infantile or rock-star nature.

“Kickboxing was one culture,” he says. “MMA is three or four.”

Some elements of fighting never change no matter what culture is involved. But in telling a story about Bob Sapp, who he knew from kickboxing and MMA, it’s apparent Coker wishes handshake deals were still valid. It’s like he’s looking for his version of it.

Coker relays Sapp was poor and hungry when he tore his way up to the NFL. Professional wrestling, K-1, and MMA fame came with money stacks that weighed more than the 350-pounder. Sapp became such a star in Japan that “The Beast” released his own pop album. The story had many settings — from a limousine in Washington to packed Japanese street markets — and somewhere along the line Sapp disclosed a hard truth to Coker.

“When I was poor and people hit me, it didn’t hurt,” Sapp said. “Now that I’m rich, everything hurts.”

While Coker is interested in Tito Ortiz fighting in Strikeforce, he’s worried that may be the case for the former UFC Light-Heavyweight champion. Coker finishes analyzing Ortiz, and a brief lull leaves him looking at me again, as if to ask, “What do you think of him?”

*Strikeforce debuts on Showtime this Saturday, April 11. A full article on Scott Coker and Strikeforce can be found in the April 2009 issue of FIGHT!

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In an era of MMA monikers such as ‘The Iceman,’ ‘The Predator’ and ‘The Massacre,’ the unassuming nickname ‘The Big Frog’ may not garner much attention, but don’t let the name fool you. WEC’s Jeff “The Big Frog” Curran has more hop in his step than the average guy and he’s got more irons in the fire than a Texas cattle rancher on branding day. Look to the frog to jump from Featherweight to Bantamweight in the WEC in 2009.

The name “The Big Frog” came about, oddly enough, about 10 years ago during warm-ups at Pedro Sauer’s school (Jeff is a first-degree black belt under Sauer) where two Brazilians kept calling him “big frog” in Portuguese. When Curran asked why, he was told he looked like the amphibian while doing frog-like warm-up exercises and he had a tattoo of a tree frog on his back. Even though the two occurrences were never linked, the name stuck.

Master of All Trades, Jack of None
Jeff Curran can best be described as a modern-day Renaissance man who has mastered many areas and is constantly reinventing himself. For starters, he owns and operates a multi-million dollar training facility and small MMA promotion, manages a few fighters and teaches Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai classes at his gym when he’s not training for professional MMA and boxing matches.

No stranger to the gym business, he’s been involved for 11 years, having moved locations seven times, and growing in size with each move. He is currently the president and head instructor of Curran Martial Arts Academy, a 24,000 square foot training facility in Crystal Falls, Illinois, near where he grew up.

“A lot of gyms are like little training centers inside of fitness centers and I’m kind of the opposite; I’ve got a fitness center inside of a martial arts gym,” says Curran. The facility offers a plethora of activities, including Jiu-Jitsu, Muay Thai boxing, fitness classes, yoga and many programs for children.

Growing Smaller MMA Promotions
When he’s not teaching classes or training for a fight himself, Curran helps up-and-coming fighters—like his cousin Pat Curran, Nate Mohr and Bart Palaszewski—and others train for fights through X-treme Fighting Organization, a small fight company he co-promotes with his manager Monte Cox and Dan Lardy, one of his partners at the gym. Mohr fights for UFC, and Palaszewski recently won his WEC debut with a KO over Alex Karalexis, which also earned Fight of the Night Honors.

“We wanted to…promote fighters from our area instead of the Iowa-Quad Cities area, where Extreme Challenge was born,” explains Curran. “This was my way of having to showcase my fighters and other local fighters and giving them a fair shot and a chance to get in front of the local fans because there’s nothing big going on in Chicago…I don’t really trust most of the promoters in Chicago or in the Midwest in general that I’m not connected with because they’ve done me wrong or done friends of mine wrong. There’s just no reason to go give somebody else our fighters when they can just fight for us.”

Add to the mix of daily happenings, Curran is a devoted husband and father. He and wife Sarah have a young son, Ty, and are expecting another son soon. He calls his wife, “a trooper” for being so supportive and tolerant of his busy lifestyle.

Early Influences
So how did such a busy person get involved in MMA? Curran says it all started back in 1992. The following year, he watched Royce Gracie at UFC 1 and was hooked. “Up until that point I was just learning Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art and…basically I didn’t know what I was involved in. As soon as I saw Royce Gracie fight, it sparked the interest and I started seeking it out and that was pretty much at the point that I realized that some day I want to fight, it’s just never something that was supposed to happen on this level.”

Three Gracies in particular served as role models with their philosophies of mixed martial arts. Curran says Royce, Rickson and Renzo Gracie “are three people who have always seemed to have more of a philosophy behind their training and not just trying to be the tough guy…I always looked up to them, but…the new up-and-comers that I’m training with every day…those are more the guys I look up to; they’re dealing with things on a different level than we had to deal with.”

The philosophies that Curran puts first include, “the philosophy of just being technical and making sure that technique comes before power…and making sure you treat the sport of MMA like a martial art and the respect issue that goes on.”

“I think a lot of the new fighters don’t have that [respect] because in the sport of MMA it’s kind of the norm to be the tough guy, you know, and have an attitude and that’s what’s making fighting famous, but I think that we still need to keep that martial arts respect issue.”

Learning Opportunities: Faber and Brown
Respecting Curran’s tenacity for multi-tasking is easy. In addition to his many business duties, Curran, at just 31, has had over 40 MMA bouts, with an overall 30-10-1 record. Before falling to his two most recent opponents—Mike Brown and Urijah Faber—he won 15 of his 16 matches just prior to the meeting up with Faber.

During the Faber match at WEC 31, Curran had an impressive first round, but lost to submission in the second round. Jeff explains, “In [the Faber fight], I’m to blame because I had 100 percent control of him and all I needed to do was be a little more aggressive and start dropping some shots on his face…and he would have exposed his neck most likely.”

“I got really content and comfortable and I just felt unthreatened and once the tables were turned and he picked up the aggression a little bit to come out of it…I was still fine, but when we went into the second round and I ended up getting cut, that was kind of the turning point.”

“Once I got cut and I was on my back and had blood in my eyes…I started doing things more on feel. I heard that time was almost up and I made a move to try to get back to my feet and pressure him a little bit to finish a round and I got caught in that choke and I don’t know, I just wish it would’ve gone a little differently than it did.”

Six months after the disappointing loss to Faber, Curran’s decision loss to Mike Brown (who defeated Urijah Faber for the WEC Featherweight title at WEC 36), was an easier pill to swallow. “[In the Mike Brown fight] I did what I felt I needed to do, but…I wish I had reacted differently but you can’t really change that…if I would have just pressured him a little more on my feet, a lot of things I wish I could’ve done differently, but it’s over with and that’s why it doesn’t really kill me too much.”

Making the Grade at Bantamweight
Like most everything in Jeff Curran’s life, he just keeps moving forward. After the two losses, it was announced that he would be moving down a weight class to the Bantamweight division.

Explains Curran, “There’s a couple guys entering the 145 division right now that are huge threats…one of them in particular I have a win against—Wagnney Fabiano—and I know that more than anything he wants to fight me again. I would love to fight him again, but my feeling tells me that he’s going to probably end up either a top contender right away or the champ soon, and just knowing his skill level after fighting him, there’s a good chance that he’s the title holder.

“I think I’ve got a good chance of getting world title at 135 a lot faster than I would [if I were to] work my way back through the 145 division, because they’ve got some other guys who deserve a shot. So this is my kind of ‘hook around the back’ approach to getting in that seat where I’m possibly a world champ at Bantamweight discussing possibly moving back to the division of Featherweight and having the current champion be one of two guys that I’m their only loss against and they want to redeem themselves against me and that makes for a pretty good way back into that division.”

Pro-Boxing as Training for MMA
In preparation for the Bantamweight division, Curran dropped weight and fought in a professional boxing match at 135 pounds, defeating Miguel Angel Figueroa by TKO in the third round. With the win, Curran’s professional boxing record advances to 2-2-1. Curran says professional boxing serves as a training outlet to hone his standup skills. “It was more just to test myself at that weight, to see how my energy level was, to see if I would actually make the weight because [I haven’t cut to that weight] since I was a freshman in high school…I had to get in there and see how my power would affect 135-pound guy.”

No Smack Talk on Miguel
How that power might affect another Miguel (WEC Bantamweight Champion) Torres that is—remains yet to be seen. Torres has accused Curran of “talking smack” and wanting an easy title shot against him at 135.

Curran is happy to clear up the accusations. “I have no hate or disrespect for Miguel,” says Curran. “It’s actually just the opposite—I like him and always consider him a friend.” As far as getting an easy shot, Curran has no such delusions of grandeur. He knows he’s working his way back up the ladder. His philosophy is simple: “I want to fight the best in the world and I believe Miguel has one of the best, if not the best, record out of all world champions, WEC and UFC alike.”

Now that he’s been tested a bit at 135, look for “The Big Frog” to make a splash at Bantamweight in the WEC in 2009. Whether it’s looking at the Faber and Brown fights as valuable learning experiences or growing as a businessman, fighter and family man, Jeff Curran is constantly reinventing himself—and continuing his quest to be top frog.

www.jeffcurran.tv

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The Ultimate Fighting Championship has had an interesting few months for their heavyweight division since Randy Couture had decided to reconcile and come back to the Octagon. The four man tournament is starting to take shape after Brock Lesnar defeated Couture and Frank Mir’s historic victory over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. There are plenty of potential match-ups that could be made and we’re going to examine them.

Frank Mir vs. Brock Lesnar 2
This match isn’t a potential showdown, it is a reality. Having fought once before, this match was always going to happen again at some point. There were plenty of fans who thought that it wouldn’t happen quite this soon, but as everyone knows with MMA, anything can happen.

Brock Lesnar, in just three fights in the Octagon, has accomplished the pinnacle of the sport after his TKO victory over Randy Couture back in November. Lesnar finished Couture with punches and had pretty much controlled the fight the whole time before finishing “The Natural” to become the UFC heavyweight champion.

Frank Mir has overcome all odds after his terrible accident back in 2004 where he was told that he would never fight again. While he wasn’t terribly impressive in his first few fights back, he worked his way back submitting Antoni Hardonk and current UFC heavyweight champion, Brock Lesnar. Mir had then participated opposite Nogueira in The Ultimate Fighter. Mir then proceeded to dominate Nogueira at UFC 92, dropping him several times before finishing the Brazilian and becoming the interim UFC heavyweight champion. Mir has to be the favorite against Lesnar after defeating him once already and also having the one major skill that Lesnar hasn’t had time to polish – his jiu-jitsu. Look for this bout to happen in the spring.

Randy “The Natural “Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira
A showdown between these two fighters should have been the first fight back for Couture. Now that both fighters lost their last fight, this is the next logical step. While we can’t see Fedor Emelianenko against Couture any time soon, having Couture fight another highly-regarded legend like Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira definitely makes sense. When asked if he would want to fight Couture at the UFC 92 post fight press conference, Nogueira seemed very eager at the prospect of fighting Randy. Couture is still one of the UFC’s top draws and would be an easy fight to promote given their name recognition, especially among hard-core fans. With Couture’s olympic-caliber wrestling and Nogueira’s phenomenal jiu-jitsu, this fight could headline any pay-per-view and still garner a lot of buys. Couture is a lot more particular about which fights interest him these days, and this is a fight that is sure to pique his interest.

Shane Carwin vs. Gabriel Gonzaga
This bout is heavily rumored to be held at UFC 96 in March. Shane Carwin is a very large heavyweight and holds some impressive credentials himself. He holds a 10-0 professional mixed martial arts record and is a two time NCAA Division II Wrestling National Runner-up and NCAA II Wrestling National Champion. Both men are pretty well-rounded and this fight could have title implications. Gabriel Gonzaga was the former number one contender and has fought some of the best heavyweights in the world including Couture and Fabricio Werdum. Gonzaga also holds a highlight reel knockout victory over Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and has recently defeated Justin McCully and Josh Hendricks. Gonzaga may hold an edge in the ground game, but Carwin has the superior wrestling. Both fighters have one-punch knockout power as well. This fight would be a good top contender fight to determine who the next challenger for the belt could be.

Cheick Kongo vs. Cain Velasquez
Cheick Kongo and Cain Velasquez could be one of the next exciting fights on the horizon. Kongo just defeated Mustapha Al-Turk at UFC 92 very convincingly and took out Dan Evensen back in August. Even though he dropped a close split decision to Heath Herring, Kongo is fairly underrated considering he also defeated former Pride superstar Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and holds an impressive 6-2 record in the UFC. Velasquez and Kongo are two of the top rising young talents in the UFC. Velasquez is a former two time All American from Arizona State University. He also hold a 4-0 record finishing all of his opponents with strikes. He currently trains out of American Kickboxing Academy with Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch. Kongo just defeated Mustapha Al-Turk at UFC 92 very convincingly and took out Dan Evensen back in August. Even though he dropped a close split decision to Heath Herring, Kongo is fairly underrated considering he also defeated former Pride superstar Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and holds an impressive 6-2 record in the UFC.

Junior dos Santos vs. Antoni Hardonk
Antoni Hardonk has had an up and down career in the UFC going 4-2 in his tenure with the promotion. Hardonk suffered back-to-back losses last year, but since has came back impressively with three straight wins. A former K-1 participant, Hardonk has very good striking and a decent ground game. He trains in Holland and has been looking very much improved in his last few performances in the UFC. Junior dos Santos shocked a lot of people back in October when he knocked out top ten heavyweight, Fabricio Werdum. After seeing Dana White’s video blog with dos Santos hitting the pads, the betting lines started to shift closing the underdog gap against Werdum. Dos Santos crushed Werdum with a nasty combination to put him away at UFC 90, thus giving him some newfound popularity. He currently holds a 7-1 record and many people are looking forward to seeing him compete again. A fight against Hardonk should be a fun stand-up affair for the fans to enjoy.

With all of the potential aforementioned match-ups, fans should have a good time watching the heavyweight division shake out. With the stable of heavyweight competitors that the UFC has, they are still missing a few big names in the puzzle, namely Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett. Even if Mir ends up defeating Lesnar, or if Lesnar defeats Mir, it will be difficult to label either one of them the number one heavyweight in the world while Fedor Emelianenko is still competing. The UFC is still actively pursuing figuring out a way to bring in Emelianenko, but Affliction has him under contract. Hopefully, all of the bouts coming up will whet the fans appetite while we see if Emelianenko can be convinced to compete in the UFC.

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Bantam roosters are famous for their aggressive disposition in correlation to their diminutive size. Oftentimes, the word “bantam” is used to describe little men who tend to have a sensationalized opinion of themselves when it comes to fighting. You may have heard it referred to as “Little-Man’s Disease.” Generally, to be called a bantam has a negative connotation. However, some bantams have the bite to follow up their proverbial bark…or, to put it in rooster terms: the cock-a-doodle-doo to follow up their peck.

Who am I talking about? These six bantams (which fall in the bantam and feather weight classes) are the cock-of-the-walk in mixed martial arts. If you ruffle their feathers, you are bound to get a beat-down.

6. Wagnney Fabiano, 5’6, 145 lbs. Record: 10–1 Of all the bantams on this list, Fabiano has the best BJJ. He is a 3rd degree black belt, and six of his ten wins have come via submission. But Fabiano also has shown that he possess good power in his hands. Ask Shad Lierley. Fabiano knocked him out with a crisp right hook 37 seconds into their IFL title match.

Fabiano’s one loss was a controversial split decision at the hands of Jeff Curran in 2006—a fight many people thought Fabiano won with his superior grappling. Look for Fabiano to continue to climb the little-man ladder this December when he takes on Japanese featherweight Akitoshi Tamura at WEC 37.

5. Brian Bowles, 5’7, 135 lbs. Record: 6-0 Bowles is a bantam in every sense of the word. He is a true bully inside the cage. Of his six professional fights, none have gone the distance, and that includes three WEC wins over Charlie Valencia, Marcos Galvao, and Damacio Page.

Bowles is a smart, well-rounded fighter with crushing power in his hands and solid grappling. His biggest test comes at WEC 37 when he will take on the dangerous Brazilian, Will Riberio.

4. Urijah Faber, 5’6, 145 lbs. Record: 21-2 Faber is the definition of “well-rounded.” He’s also the epitome of “cardio.” Faber can fight you on his feet or on the ground. He can knock you out or choke you out. He can out-point you or he can ground-n-pound you. In other words, Faber can do it all. His resume includes wins over Jens Pulver, Jeff Curran, Chance Farrar, and Charlie Valencia.

One aspect of Faber’s fight game that is not mentioned enough is that he is a quick lil’ bantam. True, Faber got a little over zealous throwing that crazy elbow against Mike Brown, but remember, those exciting, unorthodox tactics are part of his fight game. You live by the “flash” and you can die by the “flash.” No worries for Faber. He will be back kicking ass before you can say “California Kid.”

3. Mike Brown, 5’6, 145 lbs. Record: 20–4 Brown is an American Top Team veteran who has been around the fight scene for the last decade. He is a big 145-pounder to say the least, possessing power in his hands, skilled takedowns, and raw toughness. Before his explosive TKO of Urijah Faber, not many casual fans knew who he was, but Brown has posted victories over Jeff Curran, Yves Edwards, and Mark Hominick

Brown has been a perennial top-10 ranked 145-pounder and is currently on an 8-fight win streak. Look for Brown to capitalize on his newfound fame in his first WEC title defense. Who will it be against? Wait and see.

2. Miguel Torres, 5’10, 135 lbs. Record: 34–1 Basically, Torres has been beating up everyone that’s been put in front of him for the past 10 years. The lone exception is a decision loss to Ryan Ackerman in 2003. Torres later avenged that loss with a first-round armbar victory in 2005.

The lanky Mexican-American is a black belt in BJJ under Carlson Gracie, Jr, but he also possesses crisp striking and a strong Muay Thai clinch. Torres has the reach of a heavyweight and can virtually punch you in the face from one side of the cage to the other. In addition, he’s tough. And you can’t teach toughness. Look for Torres to be back in action at WEC 37 against Manny Tapia.

1. Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, 5’4, 140 lbs. Record: 17–1 Kid Yamamoto is probably the most entertaining fighter that casual MMA fans have never seen. Yamamoto has only fought on U.S. soil twice. The rest of his fights have been in Japan under the K-1 and Shooto organizations, and he hasn’t fought in about a year.

Nonetheless, Yamamoto has the best wrestling of all the bantams on the list, plus he likes to mix it up with flying knees, soccer kicks, and submissions. He is well-rounded and superbly entertaining in every way. Will he ever fight on U.S. soil again? Only time will tell.

The Future Bantam Badass: Josh Grispi, 5’11, 145 lbs. Record: 12¬–1 At only 19 years of age, Grispi is powering his way to the top of the bantam heap. Training since the age of 13, Grispi is quickly making a name for himself in the world of MMA. His 12–1 record and first-round, rear-naked choke victory over Mark Hominick in February and his first-round TKO of Micah Miller in August served as notice to WEC 145-pounders that Grispi is for real. Grispi will be back in action again at WEC 37 against Diego Nunes.

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UFC light heavyweight fighter Drew McFedries has spent a lifetime standing tall against forces that have the potential to drop anyone to their knees. From becoming an adult much too soon, to living with Chron’s disease and battling a serious staph infection, to coming to terms with his mother’s murder, Drew McFedries has seen it—and lived it—all. His incredible story documents the will of the human spirit and can serve to inspire others to make their own dreams a reality.

From a Childhood to Manhood
Telling his story, says Drew, was a long-time in the making. “Nathan Quarry has said for a long time that I should tell my story,” says Drew. But it’s one he may have held back from telling simply because he recognizes that he is powerless to change the past. He’s also the type of guy who would rather move forward without making excuses than look backward or have people feel sorry for him.

By his own admission, as a child, Drew became self-reliant much too soon. A necessity, he says, due to his mother’s on-and-off addiction to drugs and involvement in prostitution.

“We were always on government assistance. My mom was into drugs—and it’s the people that drugs bring around—a lot of craziness and prostitution—and you can just imagine when people are really hard up for something.”

Drew says as a child he had “the best of the best and the worst of the worst.” The worst times came partly as a result of his mother’s severe mood swings during the times she attempted to stop taking drugs. His mother’s lifestyle brought a multitude of unsavory characters to the home, which created situations where Drew was forced to stand up for himself to adults at an early age.

“I had to fight for myself and my two sisters—I had to fight for everything.” At the tender age of 11 or 12, Drew says he quickly learned to do his own cooking, cleaning, and laundry and relied on himself for basic necessities.

Much of his life was spent without a father figure, his own having little contact with him as he was growing up. In retrospect, Drew says of his father, “the only thing I wish my father would have done is just stepped up as a man…and said, ‘yeah, I did this…you were created and I’m sorry I’m not there’… just something to some degree…it would’ve been enough for me.”

His father lives about three hours from Drew’s home in Iowa, but rarely even calls. “If I could tell any guy anything it would be to just step up…it doesn’t take a whole lot to be a good dad. It’s about being attentive…about being there if the kid does need you for any reason that you’re available… just step up and be responsible and don’t leave your kid hanging.”

From 50Cent to Urkel
The stressors at home eventually led a troubled and confused young Drew to the point of being expelled from school in his freshman year and on the verge of dropping out. Drew explained, “I was frustrated with life and everything that happened to me at home and I took it to school with me.”

Luckily, he was noticed by his gym teacher Randy Scott and recruited by Merv Habenicht, the head football coach. “They kind of took me in and taught me a lot about life and kind of turned me around,” says Drew.

“They made me who I am by introducing me to great people and bringing me into the right circle of friends.”

Habenicht, now retired as Bettendorf High School’s head football coach, and his wife Evelyn, fondly recall Drew as a young man who became a good family friend and fit into their family well. “Outside the ring, he’s a real gentleman, but when he gets into a competition I guess you could say he really turns it on!”

His coaches served as father figures who Drew wanted to both please and emulate. Kevin Freking, who is the head football coach at Bettendorf High School, was another coach Drew credits with the ability to bring about change in him. “He was one of those people—a very hard-nosed guy who didn’t take any bullshit from anybody—who helped a lot of kids get ready for football or whatever.”

“He really pushed me to my limits and was one of the guys who really formed me physically and taught me how to avoid the pain and suffering of training and to take myself to the next level.”

Freking says, “Andrew had a bad life up to that point, but he never felt sorry for himself…he was always self-driven and he knew that through hard work good things would happen…he’s always persevered through it and that’s a sign of good character.”

In many ways, Drew says he credits his alma mater Bettendorf High School for making him who his is and changing his whole ideology of what life is about. “High school was a big change for me…imagine 50Cent going to Urkel…it was that drastic.”

Pissing off Monte Cox & Impressing Pat Miletich
With the help of his mentors and a new focus, Drew lettered in football, track and soccer, baseball. After graduating high school, Drew earned an associate’s degree at Iowa Central Community College, and later attended Saint Ambrose University in Davenport, IA to study sports management.

After college, Drew worked as a bouncer and sometimes competed in Tuesday Night Fights, an amateur MMA fight show hosted by legendary MMA manager Monte Cox at a local area bar, where Drew not only showed promise but also aroused suspicion.

“Monte actually thought I had been trained by somebody else and had been sent there to beat up on Miletich guys because that’s who I was getting matched up against.”

After nearly beating an up-and-coming import fighter from England, Pat Miletich realized he was in the presence of some serious, albeit raw, talent in one Drew McFedries, and offered him the opportunity to train at the Miletich Fighting Systems gym in Davenport. Monte was then able to see Drew’s talent, dedication and commitment with training and decided to represent him as his manager.

The opportunity put Drew training alongside the likes of Tim Sylvia, Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Jeremy Horn and Spencer Fisher, before his UFC debut at UFC65: Bad Intentions, where he won by TKO over Alessio Sakara (16-6-1) at 4:07 of the first round. His disappointing loss to Martin Kampmann (15-2-0) by arm triangle choke at UFC68:Uprising proved to be a valuable learning experience. Drew says the Kampmann fight catapulted him to the Radev win, where he knocked out his opponent in 33 seconds, because he was determined not to go to the ground again.

You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
It was, however, an opponent of an entirely different nature that took Drew to the ground after the Radev fight, when he was diagnosed with a methalyn-resistant form of staph infection that resulted in hospitalization and a skin graft on the back of his thigh.

Mentally more than anything, the infection wore on Drew more than any hardcore training session at MFS. But because of his tremendous determination and great physical shape, he was able to cut the doctor’s predicted healing time nearly in half to get back to training.

No stranger to dealing with debilitating illnesses, Drew was diagnosed with Chron’s disease about six years ago. The disease, which affects the gastrointestinal tract, is typically characterized by episodes of severe abdominal pain and cramps and other excruciating bowel problems.

During the worst of it, Drew was hospitalized and says dealing with the daily fears and pain was “brutal.” His Chron’s disease is now largely manageable with medication and a focused diet. “I learned not to touch certain foods—I can’t drink Vitamin D milk, but I can drink skim milk; I can’t eat grapefruit, but I can eat an orange…I can only eat certain types of ice cream, nuts and bread…things like that.”

Losing a Mother, Gaining Perspective
With all the trials life has placed in front of him, nothing could have prepared him for the murder of his mother Agnes just days before Christmas and weeks before his scheduled fight against Patrick Cote at UFC’s Fight Night 12 on Jan. 23.

“You know…I’ve seen so many things happen to my mother and I’ve seen her deal with so much and overcome so much—being beat up, strung out, in and out of hospital beds—that I thought she was indestructible.”

“I think a lot of my family members thought I was pretty cold to what had happened, but that really wasn’t it…I was really trying to stand strong for people in my family—mainly my little brother who is 14 because he was really confused about the situation.”

“A lot of people in the family didn’t do too well, including my sisters, and they may think I’m cold but it was more the fact that I wanted to stand tall for everyone else and kind of be that somebody to hold onto,” he explains.

“With my mom’s passing…it did reignite the fact that there were some really good times…in the end, if there’s anything to be said about my mother, it would be that she did hurt a lot of people and she do some real bad things, but nobody deserves to go out like that…every living thing deserves a chance and you never know what one more day will bring.”

To Fight or Not to Fight…
Given the tragic events of his mother’s death and his desire to be the rock his family could lean on, Drew faced the difficult personal and professional decision of whether to commit to the scheduled fight against Patrick Cote just weeks away.

“Taking the fight wasn’t the hard part,” says Drew. “It was the fact that I’d be so scrutinized for it.” Drew says sometimes you have to take the good with the bad, and that some felt he should bow out of the fight in consideration of the tough year he had with recovering from the staph infection and his mother’s death.

“I needed to take that fight to prove I could still do it…it really wasn’t about the fight…it was more about if I could persevere and push through this, and I did.”

Training for it, Drew says, was an entirely different issue. “It affected my training greatly because the fight game is very mental…it’s a very mental battle you fight to get yourself prepared.”

“It was hard to keep it together—you break down—I was cracking.”

Before the fight even began, Drew considered himself a winner—regardless of what the outcome might be—solely based on what he had overcome over the past year and his ability to even step inside the Octagon.

After a hearty standup exchange, Cote hit Drew and rocked him backwards into the cage, and even though Cote’s punches weren’t making it past Drew’s hands that were held up to shield his face, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight at 1:44 of the first round. In retrospect, Drew doesn’t fault the referee for what some saw as a quick and controversial stop.

“From Herb Dean’s standpoint, maybe I would’ve stopped it too. In my position, I know I should’ve fought back…bounced back. In my mind, I feel I didn’t react fast enough.”

Since then, McFedries scored a quick TKO win over Marvin Eastman and dropped a fight to Mike Massenzio via kimura.

Pushing Forward
Drew takes away from his life and Octagon experiences a belief that all of his trials have, in some way, shaped and molded him into the realistic, hardworking athlete he is today. “I think those lessons teach me that everything and anything can happen to you.”

And with the possibility that anything can happen very much a reality, Drew keeps pushing forward in the UFC, stating, “I’m so fortunate to be in the UFC—it’s a great organization—it’s the most rockin’ experience a guy can have to have 20,000 people screaming for you.”

In just 29 short years, life has thrown just about everything at Drew McFedries. His former coach Merv Habenicht says, “He has an inner spirit that keeps him going.” Some may call it the human spirit and others may call it the warrior spirit, but no matter what you call it, Drew McFedries has it. And after one hell of a year, Drew continues to stand tall with the intention of making an indelible mark in the UFC’s light heavyweight division.

2

When Matt Hughes surpassed Royce Gracie at UFC 60, every serious writer in the sport hailed it as the changing of the guard in mixed martial arts. The term was used once again when Rashad Evans knocked out Chuck Liddell just last month. Those transitions were nice, but they have nothing on Ken Shamrock and Kimbo Slice. The ultimate clash between old and new, the superfight on October 4th represents the final changing of the guard in our beloved sport. Yes, legends like Hughes and Liddell have lost, but the defeats have come to some immensely experienced and talented young stars. If Kimbo, one of the greenest fighters in the sport, can dethrone Ken Shamrock, it will signify the change that began when Anderson Silva put a knee through Rich Franklin’s face. But as everyone prepares for what EliteXC has all but programmed to happen, there’s one man who sees it differently. Meet Ken Shamrock.

Owner of a 26-13-2 record, Shamrock is one of the most experienced fighters in the sport. He’s lost five in a row dating back to 2004, and it’s easy to forget that Shamrock honed his craft by competing in the very first UFC event and the early days of Pancrase. He holds wins over Bas Rutten and Dan Severn, is one of five members of the UFC Hall Of Fame, and was one of the most decorated UFC champions of all time. So why is Shamrock facing off against one of the most untested fighters in the world? Other than the obviously intriguing style match up, it’s equally easy to remember Shamrock’s recent history. He’s become the gatekeeper at 205 and since he’s been called upon in hopes of having Kimbo beat a legend, it’s safe to say that Shamrock has never been this easy to beat. However, recent interviews suggest that he’s never been this hungry.

Meanwhile, Kimbo Slice approaches this weekend’s fight from a completely different angle. He’s undefeated in MMA and he is without a doubt the most popular 3-0 fighter on the planet. Following a less than spectacular TKO of James Thompson, questioning whispers turned into screams regarding Kimbo’s true ability. The potential that Bas Rutten raved about was marginalized to a quiet discussion over whether or not Kimbo could beat any UFC heavyweight. But as memories of the lackluster performance fade and the Kimbo hype machine falls into full gear, casual fans envision Kimbo as the next big thing. If he is going to be just that, a convincing win over Ken Shamrock is necessary.

Ken Shamrock has been content to strike in his last few bouts and it’s doubtful he’ll try to shoot on his larger opponent. Kimbo would obviously rather stay standing and so this is where the battle is expected to take place. It’ll be a good old fashioned saloon shootout on October the 4th, and just like in the old Westerns, this stage is only big enough for one overrated star.

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