MMA: Amir Sadollah
He’s not really in a position to ask for anything. But if he were, he says he’d aim high.
“If I could have chosen anyone to fight [this weekend], it would be the champion,” Akiyama told ESPN.com through a translator. “That would be great.”
Akiyama (13-5) returns to the Octagon on Saturday, for the first time since February 2012. He will meet Amir Sadollah on a UFC Fight Night card in Saitama, Japan. The event will air in the U.S. on Fight Pass, the UFC’s Internet subscription service.
With no disrespect to Sadollah (6-4), one might have thought it would have taken a bigger name opponent to lure Akiyama out of a 31-month layoff. Akiyama, however, says he never considered retirement and just accepted the first bout he was offered.
“It was always the expectation that I would participate in the UFC again,” Akiyama said. “I never say 'no' to any decision made by the UFC. I respect any path the UFC has chosen for me.
"Regarding Amir, he is powerful and I’m quite looking forward to it.”
To the U.S. fan base, it might seem that Akiyama disappeared after he dropped out of a fight against Thiago Alves at UFC 149 in July 2012. A knee injury forced him from the card and eventually snowballed into a long layoff.
In Japan, where Akiyama resides, it’s far different. The former judoka turned model and mixed martial artist is never far from the spotlight. He models regularly and appears on several television shows -- mostly of the reality genre and not linked to fighting.
Akiyama says he trained regularly during his layoff, and other than the knee, he affirms his health has been fine. He visited Las Vegas late last year to train at Xtreme Couture, mostly to be near UFC headquarters. He attended UFC 167 in November.
In his last fight, the UFC persuaded Akiyama to drop from middleweight (185 pounds max) to welterweight (170) after suffering three losses in a row at middleweight. Now two years older, it would not have been a shock to see him back at middleweight for this fight, but he’s committed to 170.
“This feels like it’s actually the best weight for me,” said Akiyama, who said he got up to 198 pounds during the break. "I've consulted a trainer, and the weight loss really hasn't been too difficult."
One opponent who might change his mind and send him back to 185 pounds is former Pride middleweight champion and UFC veteran Wanderlei Silva, who is facing a possible suspension in Nevada for skipping a random drug test.
Akiyama, who UFC president Dana White once said turned down another fight offer because he wanted to fight only Silva, was not aware of the commission issues Silva is facing but said it doesn’t change his desire to fight him at some point.
“Yes, I still want to fight Wanderlei Silva,” Akiyama said. “I’ve been very fond of him in terms of his skills and everything about his fights. We’re on the same stage, so yes, I want to fight him. Nothing changes my mind about that.”
Of course, first comes Sadollah on Saturday -- the matchup the UFC wanted. If Akiyama looks good, perhaps he will be in a position to make requests for his next fight.
“I’m definitely still aiming to be a champion,” Akiyama said.
Unless by “mixed” you mean that A.) A lot of people thought Lopez should’ve gotten the nod from the judges and B.) Folks on Twitter couldn’t decide whether it was better to have dozed off in the first, second or third round, there was not a ton of dissenting opinion about this fight. It just wasn’t that great, and getting sandwiched between the technical brilliance of Donald Cerrone and the wonderful insanity of Chan Sung Jung certainly didn’t improve anyone's perspective on it. As a result, it got fairly universally panned by critics.
Even Dana White acknowledged that Cerrone’s bout against Jeremy Stephens should have been the co-main event of the unfortunately named UFC on Fuel TV 3, instead of Sadollah versus Lopez.
Nine fights and nearly four years into his UFC career, Sadollah must present something of a unique quandary for matchmakers.
Despite scoring an important win on Tuesday night -- one that improved his record to 6-3 (which, let’s face it, somehow sounds way better than 5-4) and helped him bounce back from an August loss to Duane Ludwig -- he’s never going to be champion, or even top 10 in his weight class. Far worse, in the Lopez bout he struggled to look convincing against a 24-year-old unknown who came in with an 0-1 record in the Octagon and just a single career victory over an opponent anyone has ever heard of before (Waachiim Spiritwolf).
If a more intelligent, more likable guy ever took up mixed martial arts, I can’t think of his name, but the underwhelming performance against Lopez just puts an exclamation point on a run where six of Sadollah’s last seven fights have gone the distance. There might not even be a compelling case for putting him on television again in the near future.
Considering all that, it would be tempting to look at the sum total of Sadollah’s stint in the Octagon and call it a disappointment. In fact, the exact opposite is true. As perhaps the most unlikely “big name” fighter on the UFC roster, his career has already been a total success.
Though he was 4-0 as an amateur at the time, Sadollah had exactly zero professional fights under his belt when he caught an express train to the UFC by winning Season 7 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show in 2008. He was 27 years old before he first set foot in the Octagon, and while his seasoning as a fighter was just beginning, his overall growth as athlete was probably already complete.
Imagine that. It would be a little like playing a few touch football games, winning a televised punt, pass and kick contest and then, in your late 20s, getting a starting job in the NFL.
Could anyone succeed under those circumstances? Could anyone be reasonably expected to compete? And while they tried to compete, would a bunch of people sit around posting messages on Twitter about what a crappy job they were doing tackling Adrian Peterson? Because that’s essentially what happens to Sadollah.
Fine, maybe most times it’s more like he's out there trying to tackle Danny Woodhead, but whatever.
Frankly, the fact that Sadollah has even won six fights in the Octagon as little more than a rookie is amazing and speaks to his exceptional talent. Clearly however, his entire UFC experience has been a case of too much, too soon. Even the organization appears to at least tacitly understand this, as you now can’t apply to appear on “The Ultimate Fighter” without a handful of professional bouts on your résumé.
At a stage when most welterweights would just be finding their sea legs, Sadollah is competing in high-profile, televised “co-main event” fights against (theoretically, at least) UFC-caliber opponents. At a point where most 170-pounders would just be starting to think about getting noticed by one of the bigger organizations, he’s already made the transition from "up-and-comer" to “sturdy UFC veteran.”
Has it worked out for him? Maybe is some ways. Certainly he's attained more exposure and made far more money than he might have by taking a more conventional route to the UFC. Maybe that’s the most important thing.
In a case like Sadollah’s though, you have to wonder. You have to wonder what his career arc would have looked like if he’d had 6-8 pro fights before coming to the UFC. You have to wonder if taking a shortcut to the top by winning “The Ultimate Fighter” was the best thing to happen to him as a fighter, or the worst.
SEATTLE -- Michael McDonald earned an extra $55,000 for his "Fight of the Night" effort against Edwin Figueroa at UFC Fight Night 24 on Saturday.
The UFC bantamweight also likely earned the longest medical suspension of the night from the Washington commission.
McDonald (12-1) was suspended indefinitely due to a hand injury he sustained during his unanimous decision win over Figueroa. Other notable suspensions included Nik Lentz and Kris McCray, who were both suspended 42 days.
Featherweight Chan Sung Jung earned "Submission of the Night" honors for the second-round "twister" he applied on Leonard Garcia. It was the first time the submission had been used effectively in UFC history, according to president Dana White.
Welterweight Johny Hendricks earned the "Knockout of the Night" bonus for his first-round finish of T.J. Waldburger.
All bonuses were $55,000 apiece. UFC Fight Night 24 set new records for attendance and live gate revenue. It drew a reported audience of 14,212 for a gate of $1.18 million.
For his efforts against the dangerous Nate Marquardt on Saturday at UFC 122 in Germany, Yushin Okami may have earned himself a nice, warm spot on a bench; the No. 1 ranked middleweight -- at least for as long as Chael Sonnen tries to restore his name amid steroid allegations -- in the UFC has been promised a title shot against Anderson Silva. But when and how that happens wasn't part of the guarantee.
Silva fights Vitor Belfort in February; if he and Georges St. Pierre both win their respective bouts (St. Pierre fights in December), there's absolutely no better time to make that pound-for-pound fight happen. If fans get what they want, Okami might be a year away from contention.
Does he continue to fight, as Chuck Liddell did when Tito Ortiz ran around in circles years ago? Or does he take a cue from Rashad Evans and find a comfortable chair until what's been promised is delivered to him? A title shot and especially a title win can be a lucrative achievement. But "inactive fighter" is an oxymoron. If you're fit to fight, go fight.
Next for Okami: A long vacation; even if Silva is ready post-Belfort, a title shot would still be six months away.
Next for Marquardt: Tumbling back down the ladder; maybe Yoshihiro Akiyama, in what would likely be an exciting kiss-off for the latter.
Next for Amir Sadollah: Continuing to occupy a strange negative zone of credible striking with relatively little wrestling or explosiveness; the winner of next weekend's Dennis Hallman/Karo Parisyan bout.
Truth-stretching award: Mike Goldberg, for declaring Okami "the last man to beat Anderson Silva." Technically true? Yeah, yeah. But Silva disqualifying himself for throwing an illegal kick is an important detail to leave out.
Tape-delayed reaction award: Spike, for using the stuttered broadcast from Germany as an excuse to stretch round breaks from one minute to two. Because Axe commercials get that much funnier the eighth time around.
Commitment award: Bruce Buffer, for addressing the crowd in German. The man will remain the most entertaining microphone presence in fighting until Manny Pacquiao decides to sing his own national anthem.
Bad omen award: B.J. Penn, for telling Joe Rogan -- and everyone watching -- that he's returned to a more basic training regimen. Possible translation: I'm my own best coach.
New questions: UFC 122
Has the UFC mastered the art of the hard sell?
Anderson Silva taking on Yushin Okami might be a necessary fight, but it's not one that will freeze Ticketmaster's server. Sometimes sports and entertainment veer off in opposite directions.
Because fights like this present themselves as difficult to sell, there's often a strange sympathy afforded to promoters, as though they got stuck with a particularly obscure Pictionary clue to decipher. But practice makes a good tutor: In footage leading into the fight with Marquardt on Saturday, careful editing made Okami look like a stunt man; a strong co-main can virtually shut down complaints. The criticism over January's UFC 125 Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard main event? Muted since WEC/UFC featherweight Jose Aldo was added. Those weight classes might wind up being the promotion's artificial sweetener.
Is Greg Jackson hurting the cause?
UFC president Dana White blasted Marquardt postfight for playing too conservative a game, dropping the idea that trainer Greg Jackson was partially to blame. "I mean, Nate Marquardt sat here tonight and said that he thought he won the fight. Where the [expletive] is his corner?" White told MMAJunkie.com. "You go into the last round and you're getting outstruck by a wrestler, and you think you won the fight? And this is consistent with the Greg Jackson camp."
Jackson's fighters have the same identifying threads you could apply to certain director trademarks: none fight foolishly, and most value winning over pleasing the crowd. Even Melvin Guillard, who fought like he was shot out of a cannon pre-Jackson, looked sedated in his most recent fight. It's hard to mount much debate in a win, but when you bore in a losing effort, you have no leverage.
Grabbing your own shorts: bad rule?
Krzysztof Soszynski earned a decision over Goran Reljic, but the door was open for a finish when Soszynski worked a bread-and-butter Kimura on Reljic's arm in the first round. Obstacle: Reljic kept his arm out of danger by grabbing a fistful of his own shorts.
It's a legal maneuver. Should it be? Typically, anything artificial that could disrupt the natural course of a bout -- grabbing the fence, holding on to your opponent's shorts or gloves -- is prohibited. Equipment is necessary, obviously -- the Greeks were far less shy about that sort of thing -- but they shouldn't become variables in a fight. Reljic should've kept his hands off himself.
• The UFC paid Jorge Rivera both his show and win money despite opponent Alessio Sakara dropping out of the fight due to illness, according to MMAJunkie.com. If Rivera still insists on complaining, he was probably lined up for Knockout of the night, a $60,000 bonus that went to Karlos Vemola for spaz-hammering Seth Petruzelli. It would be surprising to see Petruzelli in the UFC again.
• On the heels of a countrywide blackout on television, the UFC saw a 30 percent dip in attendance for its second show in Germany.
• Inevitably, far more people will have paid for the Antonio Margarito/Manny Pacquiao fight in Texas Saturday than watched the UFC for free on basic cable. And thanks to Pacquiao's win -- catharsis for any feeling human loathing Margarito for his loaded gloves and mocking of Parkinson's sufferers -- boxing's Last Big Fight with Floyd Mayweather remains viable. The numbers, though, aren't sport-specific: it's that Pacquiao is one of the two biggest draws in combat sports at the moment. No other prizefighter in any sport wins a head-to-head ratings battle with him.
• Worth a double take: Joe Rogan calling Sadollah's Muay Thai "some of the very best" in the sport. Sadollah is good, but reserve that comment for strikers who can actually finish.
"I had a lot of fear and trepidation after my last fight&I couldn't believe I got knocked out so easily," said Forrest Griffin, speaking to BSNOnline following his Saturday victory over a fresh-out-of-the-ICU Tito Ortiz. "He had me convinced he was coming in at 100 percent, that he was super-healthy. You need to protect your ego. He does a good job of that."
Being interviewed by your own sponsor isn't exactly an interrogation on the level of "60 Minutes," but it's still worth a watch, particularly since Griffin doesn't need a lot of prodding to be candid. But if you're tight on time: The Chumbawamba entrance music was his wife's idea.
If you believe Tito Ortiz's postfight confessional Saturday, it has become virtually impossible to defeat him without Ortiz starting the job himself. Cracked orbital, dislodged vertebrae, a washout training camp: One half-expected to see him wheeled out to the postfight news conference in an iron lung.
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In addition to obliterating his credibility, Ortiz's admissions might have left some fans feeling downright defrauded: His main event with Forrest Griffin hinged on his claim that his back -- surgically repaired after years of problems -- was no longer an issue and he was in fine fighting form. (It was, it still is, and he was not.)
"I've been training pretty hard -- six days a week, eight hours a day -- and my body is at 100 percent with no more back problems," he told AskMen.com this month, one of dozens of interviews repeating the same thing. Lies. In the fight, he looked rusty, tentative and unable to counter Griffin's gangling-frame attack. Some cutting elbows -- which caused Griffin to bleed impressively -- may have kept the fight from becoming a complete embarrassment for him.
There is now talk of Griffin and Ortiz coaching an 11th season of "The Ultimate Fighter," which sounds like something that should play in rotation in the seventh circle of hell. Aside from a strong first round by Ortiz in 2006 and some brief moments of positional control, Griffin has proved conclusively that he can out-scramble and out-strike this particular opponent. Enough already.
Next for Ortiz: A lesson explaining that postfight bellyaching -- no matter how true -- only leaves you choking on sour grapes; maybe a fight with Rich Franklin.
Next for Griffin: Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who looked sharp in his UFC debut against Luiz Cane.
The Mike Tyson amateur physician award: Tito Ortiz, for declaring his training for Forrest Griffin was marred by a "fractured skull" and a "THX 1138 protruding vertebrae." Or something.
The mediator award: Griffin, for attempting to use some of his crowd stroke by interrupting Ortiz's oral gravedigging routine and telling fans that fighters get hurt training.
The invitation-to-re-engineered award: Mixed martial arts gloves, for allowing no less than four eye pokes during Saturday's event. Virgin Atlantic is prepping sub-orbital civilian space flights by 2012 and we can't find a glove that reduces the chances of corneal trauma?
The broken-record award: Phil Baroni, for swearing yet again that he'd figured out his training woes and will use his opponent for target practice. You know the words by now; sing along next time.
Q: Can Tito Ortiz rally?
A: Ortiz looked flat and slow against Forrest Griffin, 12 years of ring wear and recurring spinal issues crumbling his offense into a fading carbon copy of what it once was. Naturally, he'll try to convince fans that his next fight will be better, that he's a new (or old) Ortiz, and that his performance will be well worth their $44.95. My advice: Inquire about refund terms before purchasing.
Q: Does the UFC appreciate Josh Koscheck's unsolicited opinion?
A: Fresh off an impressive victory over Anthony Johnson, Koscheck used his camera and microphone time to criticize Dan Hardy's pending title shot. (And in saying Hardy "never fought anybody," he may have bummed out training partner Mike Swick.) For a company with few options for Georges St. Pierre, Koscheck attempting to discredit Hardy may not have been preferable to some out-of-breath sponsor plugs.
Q: How seriously should we take Ben Saunders?
A: He could've used a win against Swick in June, but Ben Saunders has exceeded expectations by showing some absolutely devastating Thai-clinch work against Brandon Wolff and a notoriously durable Marcus Davis. (Saunders understands how to use a long, rangy frame for maximum effect, a body/style marriage that not every fighter picks up on as well as he should.) He could be growing into a real problem at 170 -- assuming the Thai plumb isn't the only trick he's worked out.
Q: What's motivating some of the UFC's recent signing choices?
A: Despite being bounced from the promotion years ago, Frank Trigg, Phil Baroni, Caol Uno and Dennis Hallman have all been re-signed this year. Baroni and Trigg were obliterated: Uno collected a draw in his fight Saturday with Fabricio Camoes. If the idea is that each fight could conceivably see someone take a step closer to a title bid, none of these athletes are facing that direction; if the idea is to dull the shine on competing rosters by scooping up and then abusing talent, it's working out nicely.
• A week after Manchester hosted more than 16,000 fans, only 10,529 were seated in the Mandalay Bay Events Center for the event, calling into question Ortiz's drawing power after an extended absence.
• Josh Koscheck and Anthony Johnson split a $140,000 fight-of-the-night bonus salary; some believe that should've been signed over to Jacob Volkmann and Paulo Thiago. Koschek-Johnson, while sloppier thanks to the repeated fouling, was more competitive and had more energy. Koscheck also collected $70,000 for submission of the night.
• Judge Lester Griffin took some postfight criticism by UFC President Dana White following his 30-27 scorecard for Forrest Griffin. According to CompuStrike, Griffin landed twice as many strikes (100) as Ortiz in the bout. "Don't leave it to the judges" is a nicely macho concept, but it ignores how incredibly tough and durable athletes at a high level can be. I don't think MMA judges have done anything as heinous as boxing's fiction writers ringside, but that day seems to be coming closer.
When the UFC's hype engine fails to deliver any real, palpable anticipation for a fight -- as in the case of Saturday's Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin rematch, which is fine but far from the Epic Super Rematch of Mega-Titans some clever editing and music are presenting it as -- you can make up your own narrative.
In this instance, UFC 106's four light heavyweights might potentially be participating in a four-man tournament for a chance at the title without knowing it. In addition to Ortiz-Griffin, a debuting Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will face Luis Cane; the respective winners would have time to meet before May 1's Lyoto Machida-Mauricio Rua rematch. It may be all that you need to sit a little closer to the television.
Fewer excuses need to be made for the undercard, a talent-rich program with some genuinely compelling fights and fighters. Any program forced to restrict Caol Uno to preliminary status has things going for it.
What: UFC 106: Ortiz versus Griffin, an 11-bout card from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas
When: Saturday, Nov. 21, 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view, with a live undercard special on Spike at 9 p.m. ET
Why you should care: Because Ortiz, while not for all tastes, usually brings a contagious energy into his bouts; because we'll get to see what kind of answers Anthony Johnson has for someone like Josh Koscheck, who can take his legs out from under him; because the Amir Sadollah-Phil Baroni bout looks deceptively like a boy-versus-man matchup, which might amuse your friends; and because it's a pleasure to watch any Nogueira compete.
Fight of the night: Karo Parisyan versus the UFC (previously Parisyan versus Dustin Hazelett). Parisyan has grappled more with anxiety issues than opponents in recent months; he pulled out of the event Thursday for suspect reasons. Now Dana White swears he's done.
Hype quote of the show: "I've sparred with Anthony before. He was afraid to get punched and he got really aggressive and came back swinging whenever I got in his face and put any pressure on him. A win will put me one step closer to my goal of becoming the UFC welterweight champion. When I whip this kid's ass, I'm calling out Georges St. Pierre next." -- Koscheck, objectively calculating his chances, to UFC.com.
Five questions: UFC 106
Q: Is Tito Ortiz ready for an encore?
A: Ortiz's recent performances displayed a fighter far removed from the kind of dominating, aggressive cage-wrestling he used to great success early on; he blamed back issues, corrected by a new and less invasive surgery. But even if Ortiz reverts to his old form, he'll be a 2002 fighter in 2009: up against athletes who can stuff his takedown, shut him down on the ground and pester him standing. Aggressive wrestlers will always have a chance -- even fresh off the college mat -- but it's not as good a guarantee as it used to be.
Q: Can Forrest Griffin handle another loss?
A: Batterings against Rashad Evans and Anderson Silva put Griffin on track to suffer a third consecutive defeat. While his popularity and "Ultimate Fighter 1" finale cred probably guarantee him permanent employment in the UFC, he does not strike as the type who will take a run of misfortune with grace. Whether that statistic influences his performance against Ortiz, forcing him to fight more conservatively, is one for the wrap-up.
Q: Can Phil Baroni pull it together?
A: Despite being difficult to take down, heavy-handed and sporting the ring temperament of a rabies victim, Baroni's record reads as 13-11. Depending on which fights of his you've seen, he appears either tougher than you expect or weaker than advertised. His fighting a capable Amir Sadollah will help determine whether being "at home" in the UFC's 170-pound division is going to make a difference -- or whether Baroni and Frank Trigg are on course to give each other an exit interview.
Q: Can Karo Parisyan overcome himself?
A: Parisyan, probably the most macho-strapping fighter in the sport today, blames anxiety issues for flat performances. His last, versus Dong Hyun Kim, was erased when he was pinned for painkiller use. Having a mind congested with these issues when Dustin Hazelett is looking to make your ankle touch your ear is not proper, which may be part of the reason he made an unexpected exit from the event Thursday. Parisyan, only 27 despite his decade of experience, needed a strong performance to mute the negative voices -- both in and out of his head. He won't get that chance.
Q: Will Antonio Rogerio Nogueira welcome success?
A: Long a fixture of the Japanese circuit, Nogueira has all the tools necessary to become a legitimate light heavyweight contender -- which would place him directly in the sights of associate Lyoto Machida. MMA is not chess, and a punch to the face is not as subdued a move as taking a rook. Nogueira's success could come with a heavy tax.
Red Ink: Ortiz/Griffin
There is likely to be a moment during the Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin bout Saturday when both men struggle for position: Griffin pressed against the cage, resisting Ortiz's chances on the ground, Ortiz testing his new back against someone paid to hurt him. There are consequences to how this plays out, but they amount to more than superficial damage: In jockeying for control, both are really fighting to remain relevant.
Ortiz has not competed in more than a year, maintained a nearly annual fight schedule prior to that, and may find that fans have pledged allegiances to more active fighters. In the span Ortiz took time off, fought Lyoto Machida and convalesced, Griffin has fought four top-10 opponents (and beat two of them). Ortiz has not had a hand raised in a meaningful fight since he defeated Griffin in 2006.
If Ortiz cannot beat Griffin, there will be doubts whether a good or bad back has much to do with his recent mediocrity. If Griffin cannot beat Ortiz, he might be doomed to a career as a sardonic special attraction, not a serious contender. This is a fight that the loser leaves feeling lost.
Might look like: Ortiz's fight with Vitor Belfort, a wild back-and-forth that confuses judges who are already struggling with common sense.
Wild card: Absolutely Ortiz's back: If he can continue taking effective shots for three rounds, Griffin will need a sewing kit for his forehead.
Who wins: Griffin is most successful when opponents want to take batting practice with him; it's not a game Ortiz has to play if he doesn't want to. Ortiz by decision.
Since MTV's "The Real World" premiered in 1992 and throughout its 21 subsequent seasons, viewers have been exposed to a wide array of personal politics, belief systems and cultural dynamics. Cast members are locked in a living space and forced to confront their prejudices while offering exaggerated versions of themselves for cameras.
The dominant audience reaction: Will someone please punch some of these people in the face?
The genius of "The Ultimate Fighter" is that someone can.
TUF, which debuted in the spring of 2005, might have been the single most influential paradigm shift in the sport's history. (Basic cable television is a powerful drug.) The UFC found a venue for creating and promoting new talent, pushing existing stars as coaches and allowing curious viewers a free sample of the violence.
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Season 10's premiere (Spike, 10 p.m. ET or later after the UFC Fight Night overspill) will attempt to defy the series' advancing age by pushing the participation of Kimbo Slice, noted Miami street brawler and former CBS network attraction. And if you could never predict that sentence, you now understand the bizarre randomness of television programming.
Free fights should be reason enough to watch for the next 12 weeks, but in case you need them, here are 10 more:
10. Breakable contracting. There's no context for this scene, but Quinton Jackson is probably using the door as a metaphor for his feelings toward opposing coach Rashad Evans. It is obviously a flimsy, hollow-core piece of garbage hung in the hopes a fighter would assault it, but it doesn't matter. Property destruction never fails to entertain.
8. Kimbo Slice. Just getting it out of the way.
7. A singular cast. Most seasons of TUF have fractured production -- and viewer attention -- on two weight classes at a time. It's not that complicated, but it does dilute some of the appeal and straightforward narrative of focusing on a single division.
6. Mike Rowe. "Next time on 'The Ultimate Fighter.'" Narrator Mike Rowe can make anything sound important. He's the Orson Welles of bloodletting.
5. Roy Nelson. The most accomplished in the series' mix of rookies and veterans, most figure that the season is Nelson's to lose: His grappling was enough to stifle Frank Mir during a submission tournament in 2002, and his striking earned him a split-decision loss against Ben Rothwell in 2007. He's also fat and genial, and it's nice to see the sport having less of an inferiority complex to allow for inferior physique admission. (Babe Ruth: great ballplayer, but a bit of a slob. No one much cared.)
4. Fueling the heavyweight division. Once a laughable mess, the UFC's group of tailored suits already is looking better than it has in years: With 16 potential bodies, it's a safe bet that a handful will stick around to create more depth.
3. The vacuum. The very smart, slightly alarming-looking journalist Josh Gross often advises that fights are best reviewed with the sound off: Commentary tends to creep into your opinion uninvited. There is only ambient noise during "Ultimate Fighter" fights: teammates shouting advice and the dull thud of bodies. It works.
2. The Jackson-Evans dynamic. Most "rivalries" in the sport are born out of exaggerated emotions with the knowledge that bad blood flows right into piles of money. But so what? If Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans are faking it, both deserve Oscars.
1. Wes Sims. A 6-foot-10, unpolished wrestler-brawler weaned on Mark Coleman's Hammer House philosophy of smash first and think later, Sims reminds some fans of Ric Flair -- if Flair suffered a head injury, was afflicted with ADD and could brag of an appearance on "Blind Date." Locking him in a house with 15 other athletes should happen every season.
I opened the New York Post on Friday and noticed an advertisement notifying that Larry Flynt's Hustler Club would be airing "UFC 101: Declaration" with "complimentary admission."
If you are in the New York area, I cannot compete with this. Residents outside the tri-state area should refresh this page for live updates and observations from tonight's card.
12:40 a.m. ET -- Penn works over Florian from mount, back mount, then finishes with a choke. The Philadelphia fans, happy to see a violent finish, agree to release the hostages.
12:36 a.m. ET -- Penn is getting the better of the infighting, smacking Florian upside his head when Florian ducks for a takedown. Penn appears to be too tired to have any murderous intent, but it's enough to keep Florian behind on the cards.
12:25 a.m. ET -- Florian keeps attempting takedowns. Florian is not great at takedowns. Penn is great at takedown defense. This is probably meant to be unpredictable. Falling to the floor and sobbing would also be unpredictable. Doesn't mean it would work.
12:22 a.m. ET -- There's plenty of chatter that Penn is looking fatigued, but the flying knee is a conversation closer. An easy first round for Penn. Penn could get bored midway through the fight; Kenny is otherwise in deep.
12:18 a.m. ET -- A very keyed-up Penn is way, way torqued at that "kill the master" business and cracks Florian right away. He's stalking; Florian is evading.
12:12 a.m. ET -- Penn enters with the weird affectation of flicking his tongue out like a lizard.
12:08 a.m. ET -- Florian comes out to a Mick riff from "Rocky." You do what you gotta do. This crowd is dangerous. Liddell was mugged in his seat and didn't say squat.
12:07 a.m. ET -- "It's time to kill the master." At some point, someone got hold of Kenny Florian and instructed him on the art of the interview. Around 2006, he was sheepish and polite. Sometime in 2008, he turned into Brutus Beefcake.
12:02 a.m. ET -- B.J. Penn-Kenny Florian. If Penn put in the time, then Florian will be going five rounds with a wood chipper. If he didn't, Florian will take the later rounds.
11:59 p.m. ET -- Leonidas is significantly less intimidating without the beard. Kimbo should take note.
11:50 p.m. ET -- Griffin begins playing Silva's game. You should probably try fighting Silva, not kickboxing him, but -- oh, no but. Silva drops him with a right. Silva is getting amped and wades in. This is knife versus stick. Silva knocks him out with an almost apathetic air. Griffin is laid out, waves off further punishment, then runs out of the ring and backstage. That's probably not neurologist-recommended.
11:48 p.m. ET -- Silva mugs in mock concern when the crowd hisses at him.
11:43 p.m. ET -- Former McDonald's employee (honestly) Silva enters to a mixed reaction. He looks a little thick around the edges. This is what happens when the best-cheesesteak debate starts.
11:38 p.m. ET -- Anderson Silva and Forrest Griffin, two men who could not provoke two more different audience reactions, are up; Griffin jogs to the ring, probably to avoid getting stabbed along the way.
11:35 p.m. ET -- The Philadelphia judges briefly stop throwing punches at one another to award Riley the decision.
11:30 p.m. ET -- The crowd goes wild in reaction to a fight in the stands. Philadelphia: where the security detail needs security detail.
11:27 p.m. ET -- "Rahh!" At round's end, Riley tosses Nelson to the ground. No finesse, just an angry grunt followed by a thud. Sometimes simple is best.
11:25 p.m. ET -- Backstage, Forrest Griffin is tying his shoelaces. This is riveting.
11:22 p.m. ET -- Revenge is apparently a pretty good teacher: Riley is muscling Nelson around and landing. At round's end, some fans catch sight of themselves on camera and start waving. At themselves.
11:17 p.m. ET -- Not for nothing, but Kenny Florian looks extremely stern backstage, like he's just been audited. I'm not sure if motivation can overcome experience and ability, but if it can, Florian appears to be willing himself into a title.
11:12 p.m. ET -- Aaron Riley enters to try and resolve the ambiguous finish (a loss) against Shane Nelson from March. He's 28 and has been fighting for 12 years. Not sure how that math shakes out.
11:03 p.m. ET -- Hendricks uses his extensive knowledge of wrestling to punch the crap out of Sadollah, pummeling him into the fence; referee Dan Miragliotta runs in like he was in a time trial. The crowd is not happy.
11:01 p.m. ET -- Sadollah runs out of the arena, telling officials he forgot to turn off his oven.
11:00 p.m. ET -- As you may recall, Amir Sadollah earned "The Ultimate Fighter" title in April 1995 and has yet to appear since, citing everything from infection to injury to constipation. I sincerely hope he can make it to the cage without succumbing to scabies.
10:58 p.m. ET -- The entering Johny Hendricks is a 4-time Division 1 All-American. I know that sounds like a bunch of obtuse nonsense; all you need to know is that it qualifies him to snap the spine of 99.9 percent of the population. With a toothpick in his mouth.
10:50 p.m. ET -- Almeida looks visibly fatigued as the referee implores him to return to his feet. The blanket and pillow may have been a little much. He decides to rest in Grove's guard instead. He'll win a decision, though Grove makes a valiant attempt to confuse judges by raising his hands.
10:46 p.m. ET -- Grove nearly nails an armbar on Almeida, and he's lucky to have escaped: Renzo Gracie probably would've finished tearing it off to beat him with it later in the evening. If you are a jiu-jitsu black belt and someone nicknamed "Da Spyder" submits you, you're not -- hey, Jeff Blatnick sighting -- you're not going to live it down easy.
10:44 p.m. ET -- Almeida is all over Grove, refusing to give him any space. Grove might be one of those weird "tweener" types, too lanky to cut to 170 and too lanky to be competitive at 185. Almeida is making it look very easy to toss him.
10:38 p.m. ET -- Tito Ortiz is spotted on a UFC telecast for the first time in over a year. The crowd appears less than excited and more than a little bothered.
10:37 p.m. ET -- Grove steps in. I get the feeling his nickname, "Da Spyder," was given to him in jest, and he's the only one who didn't know it.
10:33 p.m. ET -- Neighboring New Jersey resident Ricardo Almeida enters the arena to face Kendall Grove. Almeida is thinking of dropping to 170 pounds. How will he handle Grove, who's so tall he appears to be on stilts? I would have advised watching Bruce Lee versus Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
10:30 p.m. ET -- With 10 seconds to go, Neer decides he should do something, and proceeds to elbow Pellegrino's head until it squirts pasta sauce. Unfortunately, there's that 14 minutes, 50 seconds of being dominated to worry about: 30-27 all across the board for Pellegrino.
10:28 p.m. ET -- You can't blame Pellegrino for sticking with what works: with Neer unable to peel his back off of the mat, Pellegrino is en route to a decision victory. Neer, emboldened with the deepest respect instilled by the rich tradition of the martial arts, backhands him.
10:25 p.m. ET -- The first successful lap for new Octagon girl Natasha Wicks. Quantum physics' loss is the UFC's gain.
10:23 p.m. ET -- In danger of getting the crowd behind him, Pellegrino follows a brief exchange with a takedown and works like holy hell to get the mount. It's amazing how that position -- once good for breaking every bone in a fighter's face -- doesn't mean a whole lot anymore.
Pellegrino finishes the second round in the Heimlich position.
10:18 p.m. ET -- Some vicious hugging; a bronzed Dan Miragliotta implores the men to raise the stakes before the crowd gets their torches. Pellegrino probably won the round.
10:14 p.m. ET -- Pellegrino ge
ts the body slam, Jimmy Snuka-style, and settles into Neer's guard. The Philly fans are giving both athletes a generous 45 seconds before they boo.
10:11 p.m. ET -- Interesting: the Philadelphia Commission checks gloves just prior to fighters entering the cage, not in the dressing room.
10:10 p.m. ET -- Lightweights Kurt Pellegrino and Josh Neer are on deck: two guys who fight like Bolo Yeung just kidnapped their sister.
10:06 p.m. ET -- The Burger King peepcams are live. Griffin looks quite a bit like Johny Hendricks.
10:04 p.m. ET -- They cut to Mike Goldberg. Now I'm just here to pay my electric bill. Emotionally, I'm gone.
10:03 p.m. ET -- This broadcast has about 10 seconds to win me over, and it begins and ends with whether they cut to a shot of the Rocky Balboa statue.
10:02 p.m. ET -- Live from Philadelphia, birthplace of the extremely talented Lawrence brothers. I am partial to Joey, but if you like Andrew, you like Andrew. I'm OK with it.
10 p.m. ET -- "Finally, they put an opponent in front of me that won't run." Anderson Silva ponders the advantages of fighting Forrest Griffin. For a guy who runs 240 pounds outside of camp, there aren't many.
What's far more dangerous than a professional mixed martial arts fight? Weighing in for one. Don't forget to join us at approximately 4 p.m. ET for updates, reactions and uncomfortable analysis of dehydrated abdominal walls in the buildup to Saturday's UFC 101 event from Philadelphia. Stay tuned.
4:23 p.m. ET -- B.J. Penn versus Kenny Florian. "For the UFC light heavyweight lightweight championship," Joe Rogan says. Florian is 155. No shock there. Florian looks like Florian. Penn looks lean at 155 even. Kenny may have the bigger head. If any of this information helps you make a more informed gambling decision, you're welcome.
4:19 p.m. ET -- Anderson Silva versus Forrest Griffin. Griffin jogs out and disrobes like he's going for a record. 205. Silva looks happy to be there. Why not? He's never the guy getting beat up. Solid-looking 205. Pretty electric staredown.
4:16 p.m. ET -- Kendall Grove versus Ricardo Almeida Almeida is 185 on the nose, Grove 185.5. "Fight of the night" material if Almeida has any unleaded in his tank.
4:15 p.m. ET -- Josh Neer versus Kurt Pellegrino. Pellegrino is 154.5, Neer is 155.5.
4:14 p.m. ET -- Amir Sadollah versus Johny Hendricks. Hendricks, sporting a beard that's an easy 7.8 on the Kimbometer, is 171; absentee "TUF" winner Sadollah is a somewhat alarming 166.5. Is 155 in his future?
4:11 p.m. ET -- Shane Nelson versus Aaron Riley. Riley looks better-conditioned than he has in recent memory. 154. Nelson -- who helpfully has "Nelson" tattooed on his stomach -- is 156.
4:09 p.m. ET -- Tamdan McCrory versus John Howard. "Doomsday" Howard, sporting the most bizarre flame-styled haircut of all time, is 169.5; McCrory, with very boring hair, dries off with a towel to get every last ounce. 170.
4:07 p.m. ET -- Thales Leites versus Alessio Sakara. A heavily bearded-and-inked Sakara comes in at 185.5; Leites takes the stage and immediately flops to his back. 185 even.
4:05 p.m. ET -- Matthew Riddle versus Dan Cramer. Cramer steps on the scale, blocking the crowd from ogling new Octagon girl Natasha Wicks. He weighs in at 169.5. Riddle puts on some shades. He still makes 170.
4:04 p.m. ET -- George Sotiropoulos versus George Roop. Roop is 154, Sotiropoulos 155.
4:02 p.m. ET -- Jesse Lennox versus Danillo Villefort. Both welters making their UFC debut. Does that mean the first-time nerves cancel each other out? Villefort clocks in at 170 "and a quarter." Villefort shakes Dana White's hand: White is wearing a Phillies jersey. Shameless. Lennox is 171.
Anderson Silva's glancing up at the giant screens that surround the Octagon venue to see how much time he has remaining is an easily ignored bit of ring strategizing.
But if you listen to Silva talk, you might begin to view it as a metaphor for the dwindling days of his career.
Silva has been vocal about his obsession with the finish line. He has four fights remaining on his UFC contract, and most expect him to either follow Roy Jones Jr. into a gymnasium unannounced or happily corral his children in Curitiba, Brazil, seen only as background detail during the bouts of his friends and training partners. Already, his legacy weighs so heavily on his shoulders that he risked nothing in contests against Thales Leites and Patrick Cote.
Anderson Silva, it seems, is tired of being Anderson Silva.
In an effort to antagonize him, the UFC has enlisted for UFC 101 Forrest Griffin, the brief 205-pound ex-champion who makes a habit of dragging opponents down into a quicksand of dirty fighting. Griffin gets his hands dirty and his face bloody as a matter of course; it seems unthinkable that the bout will be anything but entertaining.
If Silva does manage to inject a paralytic into the event, it won't be the last thing anyone sees -- headlining is a lightweight title fight between B.J. Penn and Kenny Florian, two men who are as combustible as Silva is questionable. If you're only as good as your last fight, the UFC has nothing to worry about.
What: UFC 101: Declaration, an 11-bout card from the Wachovia Center in Philadelphia
When: 10 p.m. ET Saturday (check back here for a live blog during the event)
Why you should care: Because Penn is the most talented 155-pound athlete in the combat sporting world when he chooses to be; because Florian's work ethic and passion haven't yet turned him as apathetic as Penn sometimes appears; because Griffin's linebacker build is a curious problem for the lankier Silva to solve; because Amir Sadollah, the long-shelved "Ultimate Fighter" winner, is going to encounter both ring rust and Johny Hendricks, which is a little like getting both swine flu and food poisoning on the same weekend.
Fight of the night: Penn-Florian will lack "Fight of the night" honors only if the lights go out.
Pre-emptive complaint: Alessio Sakara is 4-4 in the promotion, and he's still getting work on a major pay-per-view?
Hype quote of the show: "I can be beaten, but I'm not going to be broken. I'm not going to 'pitter-patter;' I'm not going to run." -- Griffin
If you don't get answers to these questions by 1 a.m. Monday, call and ask for a refund from your cable company. I'm sure it'll understand.
Q: Anderson Silva can deal with Forrest Griffin's striking. But can he deal with his size?
A: Stranger things and all that, but it is unlikely Griffin's muscular striking style will prove to be much of an issue for Silva, who practices Muay Thai like it's his religion. If this becomes a kickboxing match, Griffin will find himself with lots of time to learn what brand and wattage of bulb the house lights use.
But if he can bully Silva into the fence and force the middleweight champion into wasting energy in scrambles, carrying Griffin's weight, he might find himself on the proper end of a decision. Silva is not a small 185-pound athlete, but Griffin -- who actually has seen a scale hit 250 pounds more than once in his life -- is more mechanically dense. Size matters.
A: For a promotion still struggling to adopt an identity even after UFC parent company Zuffa ran off with it, Faber was as good as the flannel-wearing guy who hawks Brawny paper towels: marketable, talented and dominant. Then Mike Brown happened.
While a solid ratings attraction for the Versus network, the WEC has yet to find itself in a position to begin a premium pay-television attack. Its focus on lighter-weight fighters has led to lighter-weight attention. Riding a 17-fight winning streak and able to corral the Spanish-language market, Torres -- who fights Brian Bowles on Sunday -- will either take over Faber's responsibilities as figurehead or cement the idea that the general public just doesn't care about the small guys.
Q: Will UFC 100's record business offer residual success?
A: Per Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer, the pay-television take of July 11's UFC 100 event might be in the neighborhood of 1.7 million buys. If true, it would incinerate previous totals and prompt both boxing and professional wrestling to begin staring sheepishly at their loafers.
What we should find out with the eventual business results of UFC 101 is whether a percentage of customers who had never purchased a UFC event prior to the anniversary show want to stick around. If this card is able to pull off an impressive number despite a lack of high-caliber drawing power, Dana White's proposition of global domination will seem increasingly less far-fetched.
Q: Can Javier Vazquez become a 145-pound threat -- again?
A: Celebrated for gutting out a 2003 war against Alberto Crane after tearing his ACL early in the fight, Vazquez left fighting because of too much pain and too little reward. A 2009 comeback hasn't made up for much; opponent Din Thomas dropped out of a June show, and in July, Vazquez got a call telling him a bout with LC Davis was scrapped, along with Affliction's entire promotional franchise.
Now the WEC has picked up the Vazquez-Davis fight intact, and talk inevitably will turn toward whether the jiu-jitsu expert has the tools to pose a threat to that promotion's deep 145-pound division.
Q: Is B.J. Penn doing the right thing?
A: Penn has admitted on several occasions that he is the director of his own movie and that no one has the cache or job description to tell him what to do. Training in Hawaii, he might be the best guy in the room on any given day. Contrast this with Georges St. Pierre, who -- when he wants to wrestle -- climbs into a ring with Rashad Evans.
For Kenny Florian, Penn has traveled to California and enlisted the help of Mark Marinovich, a somewhat infamous strength and conditioning coach to NFL athletes. This follows a round of testing last year with Mackie Shilstone, a world-renowned fitness authority who helped Michael Spinks and Roy Jones Jr. put on proper mass for higher-weight bouts. (Penn elected not to stay in New Orleans under Shilstone's guidance.)
Whatever you think of his training regimen, "consistent" is not the word that should immediately come to mind. While hiring Marinovich is an interesting addition, you have to wonder whether Penn's thoughts of grandeur -- he has, at various points, wanted to fight Wanderlei Silva and Ken Shamrock -- are up to the task of competing at 155 pounds and against a man who doesn't possess the adoptive legacy of a St. Pierre.
The biggest question mark is the one Penn dangles over his own head.
Because some fighters have more to lose than others.
Anderson Silva. Back-to-back insomnia solutions ported Silva from professor to pariah overnight. If he finds a way to behave eccentrically against Forrest Griffin, the UFC is going to have to consider arming his next opponent.
Jeff Curran. The WEC featherweight has lost three straight bouts against stiff competition. If he can't chamber a new career at 135 pounds against Takeya Mizugaki, he's probably due for the Phone Call.
Amir Sadollah. The ersatz Griffin and "Ultimate Fighter" finalist -- who entered the show with zero professional bouts -- impressed with the underdog victory in June 2008, but Sadollah dropped out of sight due to a broken clavicle and leg infection. Not his fault, but it's also not exactly setting the world on fire. Absentee attractions don't move tickets.
B.J. Penn. The athletically temperamental lightweight said he likely would have retired if he had defeated Georges St. Pierre in January, casting his interest in doubt; he also put off fans by dwelling on GSP's lubricated torso. Fortunately, fans remember only what you did last. If he can beat Florian convincingly, it'll be an amnesic to what's been an otherwise forgettable year.
Forrest Griffin's career since his 2005 "Ultimate Fighter" run has been repeatedly marked by bookmaker suspicion. In his bouts with Tito Ortiz, Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans, he was given little chance to win; bouts were handicapped with the idea Griffin would be opposing a speeding motor vehicle instead of a human being. (To the pleasure of those holding tickets in his favor, he went 2-2.)
Against Anderson Silva this Saturday, it should come as no surprise that he is again eliciting more sympathy than support. Wagering sites will give you $300 for every $100 risked if Griffin wins. It might not be their personal belief, but the numbers reflect what they think is needed to entice fans into backing him. The day Griffin is given a solid chance to win against any ranked opponent is the day pigs taste like chicken.
What it means: For Griffin, the chance to rise to new levels of stardom by beating a celebrated pound-for-pound great; for Silva, an opportunity to reinvigorate fan enthusiasm in his career.
Third-party investors: Vitor Belfort, Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva, all of whom are looking at a high-profile meeting with Anderson Silva somewhere down the line; and the UFC, which has trumpeted Silva's skills to the clouds only to wind up with egg on its face. Twice.
Who wins: Silva. Griffin can be a bully, but he's unlikely to finish Silva on the mat -- and Silva will have at least three chances to stay on his feet and light a fire.
"It's time to kill the master" is not the most sporting of declarations, but with six straight wins -- and only one decision -- in the UFC since 2007, Kenny Florian has sweat and bled enough to earn a little hyperbole.
More than a few observers see Florian as the ultimate example of a non-gifted athlete who clawed his way into success and respect. (And they're right -- there's no video footage of Florian jumping out of a pool, which means he's practically useless physically.) Lightweight title holder B.J. Penn has seen more, done more and is more. Right?
Both Florian and Penn beat Joe Stevenson convincingly; Penn hammered Sean Sherk, who defeated Florian. Otherwise, Penn hasn't been nearly as active in the lightweight division as Florian. It's likely he would have handled Florian's opposition -- Roger Huerta, Joe Lauzon, Din Thomas -- but reputations aren't earned on hypotheticals, only what you're killed and eaten. And right now, Florian's appears to be the heartier appetite.
What it means: For Florian, the chance to monetize the status that comes with holding a UFC strap in seminars, how-to videos, appearances and merchandise; for Penn, an opportunity to erase "GreaseGate" from memory.
Third-party investor: Gray Maynard, an "Ultimate Fighter" recruit who holds a perfect record outside of the TUF house and appears due for a shot.
Who wins: Florian's commitment to the sport and physical maturation has been inspiring, and he might even give Penn some trouble standing. But the difference here is Penn's aversion to being controlled -- he can decide where this fight happens. And if he decides he wants Florian on the bottom, it'll go there. Penn by decision.