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(Courtesy of NBA.com.)

“Each of the Five Points is a finger,” said Bill “The Butcher” Cutting in the film Gangs of New York. “When I close my hand it becomes a fist. And, if I wish, I can turn it against you.”

Twenty-two of WEC’s mixed martial artists will enter the AT&T Center in San Antonio, TX on Oct. 10 for WEC 43, make fists, and turn them against each other. Here are five points to watch for on Sunday night.

Interim Lightweight Title Up for Grabs


(“Cowboy” ropes James Krause. Props to WEC.tv.)

Donald Cerrone loathes WEC lightweight champion Jamie Varner. If he wants that hate to culminate in a title fight, he first has to claim the interim belt from Benson Henderson.

Henderson, 9-1, is undefeated since arriving in the WEC this January, tapping out Anthony Njokuani and stopping heavy favorite Shane Roller with punches in a dramatic comeback win in 101 seconds. His strengths mirror Varner’s—smooth wrestling and powerful hands. “Cowboy” is a more varied striker and an aggressive submission fighter, however, his takedown defense leaves him susceptible to drowning in the deep water of a five-round fight against a wrestler as seen with Varner.

The fight serves as a proving ground for Henderson at the sport’s higher levels. For Cerrone, it’s a roadblock on his path of revenge and a style test he’s struggled with in the past. If he can force “Smooth” into a rough fight standing or catch him making a mistake raining down ground and pound, Cerrone may get his chance at redemption.

Fighting “The Angel of Death”

Undefeated bantamweight Will Campuzano drew the wrong tarot card when he was dealt a fight with Damacio “The Angel of Death” Page. With only a year and change of experience, the undefeated fighter (6-0) has a stiff test in a world traveled veteran like the Greg Jackson-trained Page, who is coming off the most violent knockout win of his career—or in WEC history for that matter—against Marcos Galvao.

Campuzano is a lanky, technical muay Thai specialist with power and a great killer instinct. However malicious his strikes, he doesn’t throw many combinations and can over commit, leaving him open for takedowns where his inexperience on the ground can be exploited. Page should use his experience and ring generalship to take the bout soundly unless he enters a firefight or gets caught closing the distance against the rangy striker.

Featherweight Contenders


(Fabiano deals with Akitoshi Tamura. Props to WEC.tv)

Former International Fight League featherweight champion Wagnney Fabiano is 2-0 in the WEC (12-1 overall) and a top 145-pound fighter in the world. However, an emphatic win eludes him on the big blue stage. He looks for a statement bout against relatively inexperienced Miguel Torres protégé Mackens Semerzier.

At just 3-0, Semerzier was already courted by the WEC prior to filling in on short notice for an injured Erik Koch. The former Marine’s athleticism coupled with size and strength can overwhelm an experienced veteran like Fabiano. The Brazilian’s masterful control should earn him the nod, though.

Another Brazilian featherweight, Raphael Assuncao, has come into the WEC with championship contention expectations. Taking on Yves Jabouin, a versatile Canadian striker, Assuncao has a favorable style matchup that should see him become focused on takedowns and submissions to avoid danger standing. Whether or not Assuncao can emerge victorious in aesthetically pleasing fashion is another opponent he faces on the way to the title.

Reaching for the Rebound

Scott Jorgensen earned Fight of the Night honors at WEC 41 in June against Antonio Banuelos but he didn’t get the win. Against Noah Thomas, who wants to erase his “The Ultimate Fighter” stint and repackage himself as a top bantamweight, Jorgensen must make it a clinch fight and persist with takedowns, grounding and pounding Thomas. “Red” attacks well from guard, but suffered a significant amount of damage from guard en route to submitting to Frank Gomez also at WEC 41. Thomas’ best asset is his will, and Jorgensen can match him in that department on his way to a win.

Well-rounded Eddie Wineland is better than he showed when losing to Rani Yahya in 67 seconds in April. Facing former title challenger Manny Tapia, he has a chance to earn a ‘W’ against someone who will fight him anywhere the fight goes. Tapia’s two fight losing streak should force him to employ his wrestling against a dynamic striker like Wineland or else risk getting stopped by the rangy striker.

Coty Wheeler gets his second shot at winning in the WEC versus former bantamweight contender Charlie Valencia. California-bred Valencia has never won back-to-back bouts in the WEC, but that should change against Wheeler due to his aggression and submission defense.

Looking for a resurgence at 145-pounds, Javier Vazquez was once considered an elite lighter weight fighter. With over a decade in the sport, Vasquez fell short in his debut at WEC 42 against L.C. Davis, dropping a split decision. He steps in for an injured Mark Hominick against IFL veteran
Deividas Taurosevicius. Vasquez’s high-level grappling should catch the Lithuanian bully, who may be rusty after 17 months of inactivity.

Mining 155-Pounds

The WEC’s lightweight division needs contenders. M-1 veteran Dave Jansen is a solid talent and has accepted a stern test against former title challenger Rich Crunkilton. Both are complete fighters, but Jansen’s work rate should be the deciding factor against Crunkilton, who hasn’t competed in 19 months.

Anthony Njokuani’s fast-paced muay Thai and improving ground game will take Muhsin Corbbrey out of his element, keeping his name on a short list of contenders at lightweight.

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We’ll take a look at stories 10 through six in Part One of this year-end special.
PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER
PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER

In 1993, a skinny Brazilian named Royce Gracie not only won the very first UFC tournament, but he also changed the way we forever perceived fighting.

Twenty years later, there’s still nothing particularly remarkable about Royce Gracie when you look at him. He’s the same slim, unaffecting figure at 46 years old that he was at 26, back when he somehow emerged as the face of the gladiator bloodsport known as the UFC. In 2013, only the obstacles in front of him have changed.

These days, Royce is a man of schedules. Right now, he’s in North Carolina, doing a week of seminars sandwiched between stops in Missouri and Canada. After Canada, he’ll head back to his home base in Los Angeles for a couple of days before trekking down to Brazil. People—all over the globe—love Royce Gracie.

In fact, people love anybody who can hollow out adjectives (like “skinny” and “small”) and recast them as glorified nouns (like “icon” and “pioneer”). In 2013, people—companies, dojos, academies, you name it—want Royce to pay them a visit. Come behold the greatest everyman the fight game has ever known.

And like most athletes who transcend their sport, Royce remains in great demand after retirement. At one time in his life, he refused to lose against giants nearly double his size. In a roundabout way, defiance made Royce not only a star but also a living curiosity.

*****

On this day, he rises before the sun is up in Raleigh-Durham and drives straight to Charlotte, where he pulls in at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy in a Kia, just as pedestrian as you please. He walks up, shakes hands with his longtime friend and student Steve Hall—the only Royce Gracie black belt in the Charlotte area—and the event is in motion. Royce is ushered without ceremony into a classroom where 40 or so cadets are waiting to hear him speak. In a flash, he’s doing just that. He’s telling them stories and answering questions. Some of the trainees followed the sport of MMA back when it was a barely legal underground spectacle. Some, just like so many on the UFC’s current roster, rented the VHS tapes.

Many are staring at him like he’s Zeus come down from Mount Olympus.

And if Royce is Zeus, then his late father, Helio, was Cronus from the first generation of Titans. The difference is that the Gracies don’t belong to mythology, even if it’s tempting to categorize them that way. In one sense, Royce is just a dude. And Helio, who in 2009 passed away as a temple of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu—and whose own brother Carlos learned jiu-jitsu from Otávio Mitsuyo Maeda and brought it to Brazil—couldn’t even do a pushup.

Royce Gracie addresses cadets at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy.  // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY
Royce Gracie addresses cadets at the Charlotte Police & Fire Training Academy // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY

“But he had leverage,” Royce tells the class. “He was strong because he had the right leverage. You’d spar with him, and he’d grab your wrists, and you’d be like, ‘Goddamn, he’s strong.’ As an old man, 70 and 80 years old, you could feel his leverage, but he couldn’t do a pushup.”

Royce just happened to be the Gracie who got thrown into that first big martial arts gumbo back in 1993 at UFC 1. He was a live chapter to Helio’s biography. Royce’s brother, Rorion, was one of the promotion’s founders, back when togas, electrical fences, and alligator-infested moats were being discussed. The whole thing was based on brutality, both figurative and literal. Although it was only 20 years ago, that first UFC feels like something from Jem “The Gypsy” Mace’s day of crude bare-knuckle combat—only, the UFC’s earliest versions had far fewer rules.

Royce was the one who entered the eight-sided cage that night 20 years ago. And Royce—virtually expressionless—was the one who was left standing at the end.

That’s when he changed our perceptions as to what happens when real life martial artists cross one another. In 1993, Jean-Claude Van Damme represented our most updated (and absurd) martial arts notions. People liked to fantasize that what we saw with Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris was the apex of the art. They didn’t envision it being the smallest man in a Brazilian chain, who headed toward the cage looking like Daniel Larusso in his gi.

“When we first came to America—when [my brother] Royler came to America, people didn’t know what Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was all about,” he says. “When I got here many years later, people still didn’t know. If you opened up Inside Karate or Black Belt magazine, they would not talk about grapplers at all, in general.”

By late 1993, Royce became his own editor. He beat every guy put in front of him from UFC 1 through UFC 4. He made the fight game horizontal. It was him showcasing the concepts of leverage, come beast or behemoth.

“I had fights that lasted seconds,” he tells the class. “I had fights that lasted one hour and 45 minutes. If the guy didn’t make a mistake, we’re going to fight forever until somebody loses.”

Hall tells Royce they’ve got to bounce. People are waiting on him at the Futrell Airfield. It’s there he’ll board the helicopter “Snoopy 1” for a joy ride around greater Charlotte, the city where Gracie once fought Ken Shamrock to a 36-minute stalemate at UFC 5.

The police are only too happy to return the Royce Gracie of 2013 back to his familiar heights.

*****

1993. Twenty years ago, MMA was the Wild West, filled with wrestlers, brawlers, judo practitioners, opportunists, pugilists, mercenaries, karate masters, sumos, grapplers, shysters, and jiu-jitsu players.

The face of the original UFC should have been somebody like the muscle-bulging Kimo Leopoldo. It should have been the colossus Dan Severn, or the yoked Ken Shamrock, or a Texas-sized concrete mixer like Don Frye. That the face was someone…somewhat less extraordinary…confused many people and raised suspicions.

“That was the UFC,” Royce says. “It shows that this thing’s for real. Actually, the first UFC in Denver, a lot of people thought it was fake, that it was set up. The second one, everybody still thinks, ‘Well, it might be set up.’ The third one, people thought, ‘Hmmm.’ The fourth one was the one that sealed everything. People saw what Dan Severn did to the other opponents, and then I came in and beat him, and people were like, ‘Wow.'”

What happened was Severn, all 6-foot-2 and 260 pounds of him stuffed into a pair of pro wrestling trunks, crashed through his first two opponents that night in Tulsa. The All-American wrestler from Arizona State was too much man for Anthony Macias and Marcus Bossett, finishing them both with chokes without breaking a sweat. Royce, who weighed 180 pounds (generously), had done the same to Ron van Clief and Keith Hackney, only it took him longer to do it. Even though Gracie had won two UFC tournaments in the past, Severn was supposed to be the climate changer. He was the 800-pound gorilla.

Then Royce happened.

In another bare-knuckle, no-time-limit fight, Severn got Gracie down immediately and kept him there for the next 15 minutes. It felt like the mismatch people suspected it would be. In fact, Jim Brown, the former football great who worked as one of the original commentators for UFC events, shook his head when asked what Gracie could do to turn things around in a bout scheduled for infinity.

“With 14 minutes gone, it feels impossible that he can do anything,” Brown said. Then, after a pause, he added, “…but [Royce] has the heart of a lion, too.”

About a minute later, the ever-patient Gracie, biding his time with Severn in his guard, began to sink a triangle so surreptitiously that most, including the commentators, didn’t think anything of it. Then he lifted his hips and constricted. Then came the slow wooden taps of Severn.

“I knew there was no way he was going to submit me,” Royce says. “There was no way. I knew he only knew wrestling, he was a strict wrestler. So he had no submissions. I just knew how to play a defensive game. So, I just put him into guard and waited for the right time.”

That was the cymbal crash of a career that had already been filled with triumph. At UFC 1, on Nov. 12, 1993, at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Gracie went about beating some of the great characters of the game. First it was Golden Gloves Champion Art Jimmerson, who fought with one glove to protect his jab hand, and ended up submitting only two minutes into the fight (that 2:18 of fight time was the entirety of Jimmerson’s MMA career). Then it was Ken Shamrock. Gracie coolly handled Shamrock’s pressure before clamping onto his neck and tapping him out.

That set up a fight in the finals with Dutch karate master, Gerard Gordeau, who’d scattered Teila Tuli’s teeth all over the media table earlier that night. Some four years before Mike Tyson took a bite out of Evander Holyfield’s ear, Gordeau wrote the book on fight game cannibalism.

Royce Gracie // PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER
Royce Gracie // PHOTO BY PAUL THATCHER

“As soon as I took him down, he took a bite of my ear and pulled it with his mouth,” Royce says. “I just looked at him like, what are you doing? And he just gave me that look like, so what. I was like, okay, and I put a couple of head butts in his face. That’s why, at the end, I held the choke a little longer.”

Gracie took home the modest bounty that dangled over the whole spectacle.

“If you fought and lost in the first round, I think you got $1,000,” he says. “If you won the first round, you got $2,000. But if you won the second fight in the semis, you got $7,000. And if you lost the second fight, you got $3,000. It was something like that. And if you won first place, you got $50,000, and second place got like $10,000.”

Money aside, the Gracies were on the map. Helio saw his craft stand up against the fiercest competition of the time.

At UFC 2, Gracie did it again. This time, he took home $64,000 for beating Minoki Ichihara, Jason DeLucia, Remco Pardoel, and Patrick Smith, who was a taekwondo specialist. At UFC 3, Gracie rolled through Kimo, tapping him with an armlock in the first round. He was so dehydrated afterward that he had to withdraw from the bracket.

After beating Severn at UFC 4: Revenge of the Warriors, Gracie traveled to Charlotte for UFC 5, where he faced Shamrock a second time. At that point, Gracie had a target on his back. And Shamrock, knowing the minefield he was about to run across, fought to smother him.

“He stalled,” Gracie laughs. “He was sitting on me. His father was yelling at him do something, ‘Don’t just sit on him, what the hell’s going on?’ But he stalled.”

That fight ended in a draw, after the newly instituted 30-minute time limit and six-minute overtime. Shamrock, playing it safe, didn’t make a mistake. After that, Royce left the UFC with an 11-0-1 record, all of his victories coming via submission (which is still a UFC record). He would continue to fight in Pride, where he met Kazushi Sakuraba in 2000 in what was one of the longest fights on record. With no time limits, the bout went 90 minutes, in which both fighters had moments where they nearly finished the other, and both nearly killed themselves in the process.

“That was a long fight,” Gracie says. “I remember sitting down, and it got to the point where I was like, ‘Okay, let’s see who’s going to go farther.’ Both of us where done for the next fight, so forget the next fight. It was six rounds of 15 minutes with two-minute rests in between.”

With a broken leg and nothing left in the gas tank, Gracie’s corner threw in the towel. It was one of only two losses he’d ever face in MMA. The other came against Matt Hughes at UFC 60 when he was nearly 40 years old. By that time, Gracie has already inspired thousands of people, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in America was everywhere. He was a vanguard. Royce Gracie had already left his mark on the game.

*****

1973. In the Gracie household, with older brothers Rorion, Relson, Rickson, and Royler Gracie, there was a hierarchy in place for the younger brother Royce. The elders were respected. If there was a problem, “we stuck to the mats,” Royce says. “[Helio] encouraged that.”

As for his mother, while there was ultimately a pacifist message behind the fight game that Helio encouraged that spoke to restraint, Veara has some fire in her blood.

“She is tough,” Royce says. “My dad would say, ‘Do not fight, do not beat your opponents, win with technique, but don’t hit them.’ And as soon as he walked away, my mom would be like, ‘Forget everything he says. Beat him up. I want to see some blood. You have to knock some teeth out. Your father is getting old, he doesn’t know what he is talking about anymore.’ I’d say, ‘Alright, mom. I’ll try.’ She was the mean side of the old man.”

At eight years old, Royce began to take up the “family business” of jiu-jitsu. Today, he is a 6th degree black belt, though since Helio passed in 2009, he wears the navy blue belt, the same as his father (despite being a red belt).

“My father thought it was wrong that people would win fights and be awarded black belts, so he went back to the navy blue belt,” Royce says. “He would put the red belt on if you asked him for a picture, but besides that, he never really did.”

*****

2013. Two days prior, Royce jumped out of an airplane at Fort Bragg. Today, he took a leisurely helicopter ride around Charlotte, from the race track to Lake Norman to downtown, where the Carolina Panthers football team could be seen practicing in the stadium. Later, he’ll teach a seminar at Hall’s school. He’s a man on the move.

Royce Gracie is all smiles as he boards a helicopter for an aerial tour of the local area // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY
Royce Gracie is all smiles as he boards a helicopter for an aerial tour of the local area // PHOTO BY SHANE CUDAHY

And these days, Gracie can walk around with his sunglasses and ball cap and few people think anything of it. On first glance, he’s just some guy of “average size,” as he says. That is, if he’s by himself. If he is with an entourage, then people connect that within the phalanx is the unassuming man who put Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu into the American lexicon.

“Most people, if they think they recognize me, are like, ‘No that’s not him,'” he says. “I say to my son, ‘Just don’t answer, don’t look back if they yell Royce. Just don’t flinch.’ If you look back, that’s it. If you don’t move, ‘See, I told you it wasn’t him.’ That’s what I hear behind me.”

As for the current landscape of the UFC, the Hall of Famer likes the cerebral fighters, the ones who use strategy, like Georges St-Pierre and Cain Velasquez. He likes the hard-to-solve puzzles, the fighters who are full of nuance and surprise, like Jon Jones. He likes fighters who go in there with a mindset not so different from his own. And as for those above mentioned names, with their big sponsors and big paydays, and all the exposure that the fight game gets now compared to those underground first days when he stood as the skinny guy going against the pantheon of Goliaths?

Any regrets that he came too soon?

“No, not at all—fighters, they come and they go today,” he says. “It’s the turnaround. Even the guy who makes five million dollars, the next week there’s a new champion, so he’s gone and nobody knows. What I have is forever. I’m the first one. There’s no money that can buy that.”

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manuwa
(Manuwa celebrates a win in UCMMA with Dave O’Donnell)

This Saturday night, reigning Ultimate Challenge Light Heavyweight Champion, the Jimi ‘Poster Boy’ Manuwa (7-0) faces a stern test as a game late replacement Reza Mahdavian (5-2) comes to try and take his belt. Manuwa can’t wait to get in the cage ahead of his title defence.

“I’m really excited,” declared Jimi. “I’m excited, but a bit disappointed that Valentino’s pulled out. It put a downer on things for about a week or so, but his teammate’s stepped in and I’m looking forward to fighting another TSG boy. They’re a good camp and I’m sure it’ll be a good fight.”

Mehdavian is a replacement for Valentino Petrescu, who was initially meant to challenge for the strap. Like Manuwa, Petrescu is undefeated, and a win over him would have been a sure fire way for Jimi to claim top spot in the UK Light Heavyweight scene.

“I was really confident,” said the ‘Poster Boy’ of his original foe. “I would have been the top light heavyweight in the country if I won that as well. ‘Misiek’ is up there, but Valentino knocked him out a couple of years ago, so the winner of our fight would probably have been number one. It’s a fight that’s got to happen.”

Coming into this, Mehdavian is a relative unknown, although this hasn’t made it harder for Manuwa to prepare. “I don’t know a lot about him, but he’s 5-2 and we’ve had the same amount of fights, but he’s lost a couple,” told Jimi. “I saw his last fight on YouTube when Dave O’Donnell sent it to me, but I’m not really taking note of that fight because it just looked like there was nothing about him there. I’m not taking him lightly.

“They’ve not been as good as I’d have liked because I had an injury about three weeks ago, but it’s healed now,” continued Manuwa on his training ahead of this bout. “I had a rib injury and tore my intercostal muscle, but it’s good now. That happened before Valentino pulled out, and I was still going to fight, I was training and working around it. I wasn’t going to pull out because of it. When he pulled out about a week later, I wasn’t sure if I was going to fight, but the week after it got better and I said I’d fight. Things haven’t gone 100-percent, but it’s going well now and I’m peaking.”

Jimi has gone from being in a fifty-fifty fight to being a lopsided favourite, and he admits he doesn’t relish this position. “I don’t really like it, because I just want to fight top level competition now,” he reasoned. “I’d say it’s like a warm-up fight until I get the chance to fight Valentino, or someone else who’s in the top five.”

In spite of this, Manuwa is extremely confident, although he couldn’t pinpoint how or when the bout would end. “I don’t like predicting fights, but most of my fights end in the first round because I go in there to finish the fight,” declared Jimi. “I’m not messing about in there, trying to look fancy or anything like that – I go and try to finish the fight as soon as possible. He looks like he’s a brawler, and there’ll only be one thing that happens if he tries to brawl with me, and he’s going to get hurt. It could go to the first, second or third round, but I will win.”

Manuwa’s also convinced he’s by no means a one-dimensional fighter. “It seems like it’s the stand up side is my strongest because in most of my fights I’ve either won by ground and pound, or standing and punching, but I’ve got good Jiu Jitsu. I was awarded my blue belt the other day, and trust me, it’s not easy to get a blue belt at my club Nova Forca. Any competition they go into, all the white belts always win, and all the blue belts always win, and it’s really hard to get a blue belt there. On the weekend just gone, I entered and won the blue belt competition and won, so my ground game’s there.”

The ‘Poster Boy’ is also convinced he has all the tools to make it to the very top of the sport. “No doubt I can go all the way,” declared Manuwa. “I’ve just got that confidence, and I can just see it happening. I can’t see myself getting beat by anyone I get in the cage with. I’m learning new things every day. I have a new boxing trainer as well now in Alan Smith who trains the likes of Sam Webb, so he’s really good. This is as well as Alan Keddle, Ricardo Da Silva and a strength and conditioning coach. I’m getting better all the time in everything I do.”

With the future looking bright for Manuwa, big offers are soon to surface, but Jimi is happy to remain on the domestic scene for a little longer. “I’m happy to do a couple more fights in the UK because I know I’m still learning, because I’ve only been doing MMA a couple of years,” he admitted. “I’m still learning all the time in my boxing, my Thai boxing and my Jiu Jitsu, and I’m getting better all the time. I don’t mind a couple more big fights in England, and there’s a couple of people that want to fight me as well. I don’t mind beating them before I move on.”

Considering the small amount of time Jimi has practised MMA, many are surprised at the progress he’s made, but for Manuwa himself, it isn’t as big a deal. “It surprised me a little bit, but before I went and fought, I watched a lot of the UFC and I knew I could do it, and I knew I could fight,” he stated. “I just needed to get into the training, and get my Jiu Jitsu and striking sorted out. I took my first fight after six weeks of training, and I haven’t looked back since then. When I came to Ultimate Challenge, I started fighting medium level guys, and that’s when everything started coming together.”

Now, Manuwa is solidly in the top 5 of the Country’s light-heavyweight roster. Will he hold on to that? Reza Mehdavian will certainly hope not.

For more information on UCMMA ‘Never Back Down’ and for tickets visit ucmmma.com.

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Jorge Gurgel’s desire to please his bosses in the UFC with exciting fights ultimately got him fired.

“I was sick of not performing up to my expectations. I know how I can fight. All my students know,” said Gurgel of his 3-4 UFC record. He claims a rebirth is on this horizon this Friday when he battles Conor Heun at Strikeforce Challengers live from the ShoWare Center in Kent, Washington on Showtime.

The damage suffered in his fights – a broken jaw, blood in his urine – didn’t prompt the change. The effect it has had on his body, that Gurgel is “32 going on 50” as his best friend and most famous student Rich Franklin likes to say – that wasn’t it either.

After a soul-searching surf trip to his native Brazil following his dismissal from the UFC, a friend explained losing with a crowd-pleasing style depressed fans and students more than it excited them. It was the first of two revelations that prompted a rebirth.

During his last UFC bout, Gurgel realized he was listening to his corner man Mark DellaGrotte—the first time he’s listened to his corner man in his entire nine-year career—and said so out loud.

“Good, you should,” said DellaGrotte.

Gurgel chalks it up to being a late bloomer. He still plans to fight with every ounce of his being, hospitalization looming or not. Play it safe? He insists he’s more likely to get seriously hurt in training or walking down the street.

“If I was [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva, I would have cut myself too,” he said, pointing out he disappointed himself and everyone else with his showings even in victory. “With my second chance, I’m actually ready to perform the way I know I can perform.”

That’s the gameplan for Strikeforce—perform. And Gurgel asserts he’s sticking to it. With excitement in his voice, he comments the main benefit of fighting in Strikeforce versus the UFC is pacing. He wants to fight as much as possible, parlaying it into a title run for Strikeforce.

If he’s healthy after Heun — which has never been the case after his fights — Gurgel wants to fight on Strikeforce’s August 15th Showtime card. He’s not worried about “Hurricane” because he expects that Heun won’t stand and will instead try to take the fight to the ground. Gurgel welcomes that, willing to fight anywhere, perhaps making the transition form single-minded fighter to mixed martial artist.

“Stubbornness got me where I am today,” according to Gurgel. But the willingness to listen and learn is what will allow him to succeed in the future. Gurgel believes his change in perspective will manifest itself in a physical, aggressive, dominant yet technical version of himself—a fighter he’s excited to meet.

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adcc-2

By FIGHT! contributor Eric Killelea

The Abu Dhabi Combat Club, one of the most respected organizations in the grappling world, is now promoting regional tournaments, opening its mats to all ages and skill levels.

“If you are a kid, teen, beginner or an intermediate, you will be able to grapple in a no-gi tournament that has different rules than most other tournaments,” wrote Boyce. “Also, you can start to learn how to compete in an ADCC tournament if you have bigger and better plans, like Worlds. ADCC officials will be at every tournament scouting talent.”

“For Experts, every regional winner will get invited to a 16 man ADCC National Championships next year,” wrote Boyce. The ADCC will in addition invite those who earn the most points during the year. Nationals begin 2010 June, and will consist of two days: the first an open tournament; the second, the sixteen man tournament where a winner is “crowned ADCC National Champion.”

The regional tournaments start in Houston, Texas on July 25, followed by visits to Las Vegas and the Great Lakes. ADCC Promoter Brett Boyce wrote in email that the organization will “also be adding in Denver, Seattle, Sacramento, NY/NJ and maybe Boston and Atlanta.”

For more information or to register for the event, visit ADCCRegionals.com, and to learn more about the ADCC, read Eddie Goldman’s history of the prestigious event.

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(Cro Cop Cheicks a knee.)
(Cro Cop "Cheicks" a knee.)

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic spent years kicking K-1 and Pride opponents in the head, but somewhere along the way his own head came undone.

“Well, to tell the truth, its hard to say 100-percent, what was the struggle for my first appearance in the UFC, my first three fights,” Filipovic said during Tuesday’s UFC 99 conference call. “To tell the truth, I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t adapted for the fight in the cage. Maybe I wasn’t hungry enough. I don’t know, I don’t know.”

The 2006 Pride Grand Prix champion arrived in the UFC Octagon in 2007, posted a 1-2 record, and was released to pursue other opportunities. Fight fans were left wondering what happened to the fearsome Croat kickboxer and where he would end up. “Cro Cop” returned to Japan, fighting three times for Dream and K-1 but did little to convince observers that he had returned to form.

Having hinted at a return to the UFC almost since the moment he was released, Filipovic recently announced that he would fight again at UFC 99. But the deal was far from done and even further from business as usual for the UFC.

Filipovic signed a one-fight contract to fight Brit Mustapha Al-Turk in Cologne, Germany, a one-of-a-kind deal in Dana White’s nine-years as a promoter—a verbal contract signed over the phone. What comes after UFC 99 is still up in the air.

“Mirko and I working on that still,” said White. “Listen, Mirko ‘Cro Cop’ ended up on this card like last minute. Within weeks before the event, and this whole deal was done verbally over the phone with me and him.”

“Cro Cop” is confident that defeating Al-Turk would help to erase his failed Filipovic calls his first UFC run a “black spot in my career and in my life,” and is confident that he’ll make the most of this second chance.

“Today, those [UFC losses] are behind me. I have maybe the strongest and the best motivation,” said Crocop. “I want to return to the top. I just want to prove [to] everyone that they were wrong. They were wrong, you know.”

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UFC President Dana White has made it no secret that Toronto and New York City are the last North American feathers he wants to pluck for his cap. After officials stalled for years on the issue of regulating MMA in Ontario, they abruptly changed course in 2010 and on Tues., the UFC announced that a card will take place on April 30, 2011 in Toronto at the Rogers Centre, formerly known as the Skydome. The large, multi-purpose stadium is home to Major League Baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays, and White is quoted in the press release as saying that, “Toronto is going to break the record and host the biggest mixed martial arts event ever in North America.” The company will also host its second Canadian UFC Fan Expo that weekend in Ontario.

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Once again Danny Acosta and Rick Lee teamed up to shoot video of nearly everyone they passed by during UFC 109 weekend. If you feel like killing half an hour or so you’ll find links below to interviews with Matt Serra, Melvin Guillard, Antonio Banuelos, Phil Davis, Ray Longo, Randy Couture, Neil Melanson, Erin Toughill, Matt Lindland and Marc Munoz. If you’re in a hurry, though, I recommend checking out at least the first four.

Matt Serra: When That Music Comes On My Nipples Get Hard

Melvin Guillard: I’m Not A Failure

John Howard: The Beef Is Real

Antonio Banuelos: With Great Mustache Comes Great Responsibility

Phil Davis: I Got A Lot To Work On

Neil Melanson & Erin Toughill

Matt Lindland: He Came Through

Ray Longo: If He Hits Ya He’s Gonna Hurt Ya

Marc Munoz: Fighting Is A Family Affair

Randy Couture: I Was Prepared For The Best Mark Coleman

Chris Tuchscherer: I’m Ready to Rock and Roll

Shawn Tompkins: If He Wins, I Win

John Gunderson: I Was Stoked

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By FIGHT! contributor Matt Burosh

This week there is more weight on Jake Shields’ shoulders than the 15 pounds that separates his native welterweight division from the middleweight class inhabited by his opponent, “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler.

“I’m giving up a little weight but I’m not too concerned about it,” said Shields. “Robbie’s big and strong, but I’m not that small. I always cut weight down to 170 anyway, so I’m able to actually lift weights and stuff now. I won’t be huge for the weight class, but I won’t be that small either.”

Shields will enter the main event on June 6 riding an impressive 11-fight win streak. Fighters who win build momentum, increasing their purses, and sponsorship money along the way. But one misstep or unimpressive performance can send a fighter tumbling to the under card, where the checks are small and the margin for error even smaller.

Also weighing heavy on the welterweight-turned-middleweight’s mind is the fact that his strength is groundwork while his opponent is a feared brawler. Shields earned one of only three black belts awarded thus far by Cesar Gracie and of his 12 finishes, nine came by way of submission.

“Obviously I’m much more of a ground guy and Robbie’s more of a striker, but it’s not my exact strategy to just [go out there and put it on the ground],” said Shields. ThThat being said though, Shields has also voluntarily joined ranks alongside such fighters as Demian Maia and Dustin Hazelett, saying, “I want to show the world that jiu-jitsu is still relevant for MMA,” thereby adding a certain pressure on himself to perform with such a focused mindset.

Will Lawler prove to be too much for him? Will the weight difference be a factor in the fight? Will his game plan get short circuited by a five-finger takedown? Will the pressure of maintaining a win streak psyche Shields out? We’ll just have to “weight” and see.

For more on Shields, dip into the FIGHT! Mag archives.

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Now that Phoenix, Ariz. has won the AMP Energy Hometown Takedown contest and will host a WEC fight at Jobing.com Arena on December 16, Bullz-Eye, AMP Energy and the WEC have teamed up for the AMP Energy Hometown Takedown Best Seat in the House promotion. One lucky WEC fan will not only win an all-expenses paid trip to the December fight, but will also get the opportunity to sit in press row for the fight, which includes AMP Energy fighter Anthony “Showtime” Pettis’ lightweight title fight against Ben Henderson.

One lucky fan will:

– Win an all-expenses paid trip for two to Phoenix for WEC 53
– Two tickets to WEC 53
– Receive a press pass to sit in press row and chronicle the fight during WEC 53
– Receive VIP access to the official weigh-in press conference the night before WEC 53
– Eat dinner with AMP Energy fighter and former world champion Urijah Faber before the fight
– Receive signed memorabilia from some of the top AMP Energy WEC fighters

Fans can log on to Bullz-Eye.com to find out how to enter the contest, which ends December 3.

In August, Phoenix was named the winning city of AMP Energy’s Hometown Takedown contest, in which 30 cities vied for the chance to host a WEC fight in December based on consumer voting. Don’t miss your chance to attend the last WEC fight ever!

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