MMA: Andrei Arlovski
Jackson was in Andrei Arlvoski's corner for a heavyweight fight against Johnson nearly two years ago in Atlantic City. The bout headlined a World Series of Fighting card in March 2013.
Johnson (19-4) dropped Arlovski twice with right hands at the end of the first round. The punches broke Arlovski's jaw in two places, although he managed to finish the three-round fight. Johnson won by decision.
As Jackson prepares UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones for a title defense against Johnson, he says he's training him for the hardest-hitting opponent of his career.
"[Daniel] Cormier was knocking people around left and right, too, but as far as raw power, I don't think anybody hits harder in the division than Johnson."
According to Jackson, Jones has not officially started camp for Johnson. The UFC has not announced a date for the fight, but current expectations are that it could headline an event in May.
Jones, 27, recently relocated to Albuquerque, N.M., to dedicate himself full time at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA. Jackson said Jones has been hitting mitts but won't get fully back into hard training until later this month.
Jackson said he had no preference for Jones between fighting Johnson or Alexander Gustafsson next. The two contenders fought on Jan. 24 in Sweden, with Johnson scoring a quick first-round TKO.
"We've cornered against Johnson before, and he is such an impressive dude," Jackson said. "His punch, good Lord, that thing hits hard. He is going to be a real challenge. That's a loaded gun that can go off at any time.
"I'm good with whoever they put in front of Jon. I don't have any preferences. I'm not like, 'Oh, I wish you could fight so-and-so, because it hardly ever works out that way. Whoever they put in front of me, that's who I have to solve."
In regard to Jones' positive drug test ahead of his title defense against Cormier at UFC 182 on Jan. 3, Jackson said he is not worried about his star pupil's immediate future and believes he has dealt with the matter correctly.
Jones has said he underwent a 24-hour evaluation at a drug-treatment facility shortly after news of the positive drug test and has taken on outpatient therapy. He has denied any serious drug addiction.
"He is definitely a grown man," Jackson said. "I can give my advice to him as a friend and say, 'If you're going to party, make sure you don't repeat your past mistakes,' but I'm not going to follow him around or anything. I'm not a baby-sitter.
"I don't [have any concerns about Jones]. He's doing the right things to get control of the mistakes he made. I'm not worried about him."
Win, lose or draw, one week after Antonio Silva fights Andrei Arlovski at this weekend's UFC Fight Night event in Brasilia, Brazil, the 34-year-old will be on the operating table.
Silva (18-5-1), who was diagnosed with acromegaly in 2006, will undergo surgery next week in Sao Paulo, Brazil to remove a cyst on his pituitary gland. It's a common procedure among acromegaly patients -- and one Silva has actually underwent previously. Surgeons will enter the gland through the Brazilian's nasal passages and attempt to remove all of the cyst, which causes his body to produce an excess amount of growth hormone.
Symptoms of acromegaly, otherwise known as gigantism, include enlarged hands, feet and skull. Complications can include headaches, impaired vision, joint pain, enlarged vital organs and heart and kidney failure.
The surgery is relatively uncomplicated, but as his manager, Alex Davis, put it: I don't think any human being would enjoy having their operated on.
No doubt Silva, who will require two months off with no contact, would agree -- but he doesn't have much of a choice. Last year, the UFC granted him a therapeutic-use exemption for testosterone-replacement-therapy (TRT) prior to his epic, five-round draw against Mark Hunt. It was the first time Silva had been approved the use of TRT to treat his acromegaly -- and it would prove to be the last.
After the fight, Silva tested positive for elevated testosterone levels and was suspended nine months. He also lost a $50,000 bonus. His case embodied what many came to criticize about TRT in general: It can be a touchy science. Silva said the positive test was caused by an extra dosage he was instructed to take by his physicians. In February, the Nevada State Athletic Commission banned TRT in combat sports altogether and the UFC quickly followed its lead.
Had Silva been allowed to continue TRT treatment, he would have been able to avoid surgery (at least temporarily). Due to the ban across the sport, going under the knife is "the only option he has," Davis said.
"He was one of the few fighters, if not the only one, who was justified in using TRT," Davis told ESPN.com "It's completely unfair to make a human being, who medically needs TRT, go without it. I think the ban of TRT is wrong."
In Silva's case, the elevated levels of testosterone in December marked the second failed test of his career. In 2008, he tested positive for the banned substance Boldenone, which he said also stemmed from treatment for his condition. Ultimately, individual athletes (more so than physicians overseeing them) are responsible for what they put in their bodies -- but Silva admits any public perception of his two failed tests that he was cheating is frustrating.
The majority of the public is not aware of [my condition]. If they knew my condition and what it meant, they would understand why I need to be on TRT. It's all been very frustrating ...” -- Antonio Silva, on dealing with the medical condition acromegaly
"The majority of the public is not aware of [my condition]," Silva said. "If they knew my condition and what it meant, they would understand why I need to be on TRT. It's all been very frustrating, but I believe in God and I've been placed on a main event and I need to put on a great show so everyone forgets [about the suspension]."
Rather than discuss his condition (and some of the necessary treatments) in every interview to let the public know, Silva and his team don't like to discuss it. It's a personal medical issue, for one. It's also been a long, tiring issue to deal with in his career and they'd rather simply always try to move away from it. According to Davis, he's worked extensively with several state athletic commissions prior to Silva's fights linked to his acromegaly. Ahead of one bout, Davis said, "the only thing the commission didn't test him for was rabies."
Silva would much rather discuss his upcoming fight, which happens to be taking place in his birthplace of Brasilia, where several family members still live. The bout is a rematch of a contest that took place under the Strikeforce banner in May 2010. Silva won via unanimous decision.
The draw with Hunt in his last fight was considered one of the best fights of 2013, which made the medical miscue all the more disappointing. He will continue to deal with his health after this upcoming fight, but for now he's ready to put the focus back on what happens inside the cage on Saturday.
"I've watched that last fight plenty of times and I've enjoyed watching it," Silva said. "For me, that was a very fun fight. Mark Hunt is a great athlete who was able to make that fight happen in that way. I was very happy about the fight but disappointed with the rest of it. Who wouldn't be?"
Johnson (16-4) is scheduled to face Phil Davis in a high-profile 205-pound matchup at UFC 172 in Baltimore on Saturday. It will mark Johnson’s first appearance in the Octagon since the UFC cut him in January 2012 for repeatedly missing weight.
He missed the 171-pound limit twice as a welterweight in 2007 and 2009. In what was supposed to be his middleweight debut at UFC 142, Johnson weighed in heavy again, which put a co-main event fight against Vitor Belfort in jeopardy.
After he missed weight for another middleweight bout outside the UFC, Johnson made a permanent move to light heavyweight. And no matter what happens from here on out, that’s where he’ll stay.
“If anybody brings up 186 pounds to me, I look at them cross-eyed,” Johnson said. “Honestly, I start feeling sick when I get to 204 pounds. My body won’t allow it. It’s most likely a mental thing but I don’t even want to think about it.”
Although Johnson says he’s finished with hard weight cutting personally, he does hold opinions on recent suggestions for reform on the process.
Last month, the Association of Ringside Physicians issued a statement on potential weigh-cutting reform in combat sports. One suggestion was to establish a “lowest allowed fighting weight for competitors through body composition and hydration assessment.”
If anybody brings up 186 pounds to me, I look at them cross-eyed. Honestly, I start feeling sick when I get to 204 pounds."
-- Anthony Johnson, on his feelings about a return to middleweight
Despite an admission that he probably “knocked on death’s door” several times while cutting to 171 pounds, Johnson is not in favor of a regulatory body telling a professional athlete what weight class he or she can compete in.
“I think that’s just insane,” Johnson said. “Nobody can tell you what you can and can’t do.
“You know your body and if you believe you can reach the weight class you’re set [to fight in], then do it. I don’t think anybody should put limits on what you believe you can do.”
Other advocates for weight-cutting reform have suggested same-day weigh-ins, which would theoretically force athletes to compete closer to their natural weight. The major draw back would be the potential of more dehydrated fighters in the cage, which makes the brain more susceptible to damage.
Still, others have called for weigh-ins to occur well ahead of a bout, which would add more time between a dehydrated phase at weigh-in and an actual fight.
In addition to his stance on the ARP suggestions, Johnson is against same-day weigh-ins, but ultimately says he doesn’t have a say in the matter, as he’s committed to 205 pounds.
As he puts it, “I don’t think losing too much weight is healthy at all, but look who’s talking. I used to lose 40-to-50 pounds.”
As far as how the move up in weight suits him, Johnson says he feels at home in the weight class, even though his fight against Davis will be a major step up in competition. He’s 3-0 currently as a light heavyweight.
“I’m confident I’ve already figured out fighting at this weight,” Johnson said. “To me, weight is weight. It doesn’t matter to me at this point. Just me who you give me and I’ll see what they’ve got.”
Johnson and Davis have only interacted once, according to Johnson -- when the two shared a locker room at a UFC Fight Night event in March 2011 in Seattle. Johnson was fighting at welterweight at the time, but wasn’t dwarfed by Davis’ size.
“When I was fighting at 170 I thought everybody was big,” Johnson said. “At the same time, I don’t see guys as being too big for me as long as I can see them eye-to-eye. I thought he was big, but he wasn’t too big.
“There was only one person that was just too big for me and that was Andrei Arlovski [Johnson defeated Arlovski via decision last year as a heavyweight]. He was too big.”
This year’s UFC over Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas is, as they tend to be, loaded.
If the lineup holds, a tremendous middleweight championship fight between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman should get an energy-building lead-in with three important featherweight contests, and a clash at 185 between Mark Munoz and Tim Boetsch.
UFC officials on Thursday announced the addition of two compelling and important fights at 145 to go with an equally important and compelling clash between Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas.
Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar makes his second appearance at 145 against slick Brazilian Charles Oliveira. And Dennis Siver reboots a contest with Cub Swanson, which was originally scheduled for Feb. until Siver pulled out of the bout with an injury. Swanson, instead, handled Dustin Poirier to win a unanimous decision in London.
The next featherweight contender will certainly emerge after July 6, which means about a month of waiting to see what happens between champion Jose Aldo and lightweight convert Anthony Pettis in Rio de Janeiro.
Who gets the call? That’s difficult.
We can rule out the winner between Edgar-Oliveira. “The Answer” has lost three in a row, albeit title fights to Aldo and Benson Henderson twice. And Oliveira is returning from a first-round knockout to Swanson.
So that leaves four.
Siver’s unbeaten since moving to 145 two fights ago, out-pointing Diego Nunes and Nam Phan. A win over Swanson would send a sincere message about his intentions.
Riding high, Swanson has won four straight against George Roop, Ross Pearson, Oliveira and Poirier. Adding Siver to that list would be impressive.
Jung’s taken three straight against Leonard Garcia, Mark Hominick and Dustin Poirier. Putting Lamas in that cast sends a clear signal the fan favorite “Korean Zombie” is ready for a title shot.
Lamas, meanwhile, steps in on a four-fight win streak, toppling Matt Grice, Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch. A fifth over Jung makes him the top contender in my book.
Guillard in no man's land
What's to become of Melvin Guillard?
The inconsistent lightweight announced on Twitter this week that he was leaving Florida-based Blackzilians to return to Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico. But there's a snag. The Jackson crew was unaware of Guillard's pending return since two months ago, MMAjunkie.com reported this week, gym leaders voted that they didn't want him around after he angered them with comments after moving to Blackzilians in 2009. Add to that the report that Guillard, 29, faces two assault charges from separate incidents in Albuquerque in 2010.
"Melvin said he felt it was time for him to go back to Jackson's," ASM founder Glenn Robinson told SI.com "We only want what's best for Melvin, so I spoke to the coaches, and they agreed it was a good chance for him to make a change that he probably needed. We support the decision."
Absent safe harbor in New Mexico, it's unclear where Guillard (30-12-2) will receive the training he needs. He's lost four of five fights in the UFC, and was finished in three of them by Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon.
Je ne parle pas Francais
In the wake of the weigh-in mess in Montreal, Association of Boxing Commission president Tim Lueckenhoff told ESPN.com he asked the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, also known as the Quebec Boxing Commission, for a copy of their rules to "verify if .9 [pounds] is allowed over the contract weight."
Lueckenhoff, who serves as the head of the Missouri Office of Athletics, received a copy of Quebec's rules, but he still couldn't find an answer.
"They sent me their rules in French, which did not help much," Lueckenhoff said Friday. After following up, the commission claimed "their rule was not specifically clear on whether .9 could be allowed or not."
"I'm certain in the future," he said, "they will have a legal opinion on the allowance of .9 on title fights."
Incidentally, in Missouri, fighters in title bouts aren't allowed to weigh-in above their contract weight, as they aren’t virtually everywhere else.
Prior to receiving Quebec's rules, Lueckenhoff said he told the commission to also provide them to the media if able. Otherwise, release the details of what happened leading up to the weigh-in for UFC 158 between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz, "and if a mistake was made, admit it. Make sure it does not happen again, and move on."
A spokesperson for the Quebec Boxing Commission did not reply to ESPN.com when asked about Lueckenhoff's comments.
WSOF waiting on title fights
Don't expect to see any "world title" fights from the World Series of Fighting in the near future. I always shrug my shoulders and make face when promoters, big and small, use the phrase. There aren't any "world titles" in MMA, only promotional belts, though if you happen to be in the UFC most fans and media won't see a difference. But in Bellator and anywhere else, no, it's not a world title no matter how many times you say it is.
"A title fight has to mean something to the promotion," Ali Abdel-Aziz told MMAFighting.com on Wednesday. The promotion's senior executive vice president and matchmaker, who like RFA president Ed Soares is also a manager of fighters, including Frankie Edgar, said WSOF "will make sure that when they get title shots they will have earned it."
Don't misunderstand, title fights will come. They'll surely be billed as "world titles" just the same as everyone else. But it's smart to delay, wait for fighters to emerge from the fray, for prospects to mature before going there. So kudos to WSOF, just two shows into its venture, for realizing that throwing belts on the line isn't the smartest way to go at the moment.
In MMA, perception is everything. Not that Josh Burkman, who knocked out Aaron Simpson at WSOF 2 on Saturday to “earn” his own shot, is a fan of the idea.
Burkman thinks Fitch needs to beat somebody within the promotion before he can barge into the place and think about titles. Fitch, who was 14-3-1 in the UFC and will debut in June, has the greatest credentials never to be taken seriously. He has never known the red carpet treatment, either, so why should he now? Remember when he was about to fly off to join the cast of the original “Ultimate Fighter,” only to be told -- while sitting on the tarmac -- that he didn’t make the cut?
Life hasn’t always been pretty for Fitch. This is why he’s always gnashing his teeth.
Of course, Burkman may be forecasting here. He may be thinking about the task of trying to get up from under Fitch’s onslaught of elbows. He may be thinking of the futile nature of simply “trying to stand back up” against Jon Fitch. Of the 14 wins Fitch scored in the UFC, 14 opponents were saddled with the project of staying off their backs against Fitch heading in. Fourteen found themselves on their backs come fight night anyway.
Burkman may sense something inevitable.
But Burkman won’t ultimately decide who fights for the inaugural welterweight belt at WSOF. The decision will be up to WSOF president, Ray Sefo. If Sefo says Fitch, then it’s Fitch. If he says it’s Burkman versus Fitch, Burkman should just be happy his name isn’t Abercrombie. Imagine the confusion that those posters would generate?
You know what would be novel, though? Have Burkman against Fitch just for the heck of it. Don’t make it about glorified accessories like the other clubs. Don’t create world titles. Just have the best guys go toe-to-toe. Tear down partitions, and put on “intrigue fights.” Have Burkman and Fitch fight just because it’s logical, at this point in time, to have them fight.
Imagine an MMA utopia that goes about business without the tyranny of gold-played belts. Where guys are free to roam weight classes in pursuit of the best, most ridiculous scenarios. Like former welterweight Anthony Johnson against former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski, perpetuated.
Bizarre = fun.
If Quinton Jackson joins the ranks, or Josh Barnett -- or whoever, as there will be plenty -- the idea should be that they join a pool of possibilities. Rather than former UFC fighters coming over to resurrect themselves as contenders and/or champions in a different setting, they enter the salt mines, baby.
Or something like that.
WSOF has a chance to build itself any way it wants. Why not do fan-friendly fights that are strictly about fan friendliness? Have people fight -- not desperately, but happily -- for simple relevance. The alphas will always stand out anyway. Who knows, it might be a lure, too. Those who hate structure can come to the Wild West, where fantasy matchmaking happens. The WSOF could make it about the best names that couldn’t get at each other in the UFC (or elsewhere) coming together under their own banner. Anthony Johnson wants to fight “Rampage?” All too easily arranged. Marlon Moraes against, say, Bibiano Fernandes? Roll it out. Tyrone Spong against just about anybody from 205 pounds on up?
Here’s a league of pure hospitality.
It’s a thought. And, really, it’s not a very original thought, as I’ve seen MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani and others tweet similar ideas about a titleless landscape.
Ultimately there’s nothing that says you have to have belts at the top of every weight class. Belts exist for a reason. They mean money. It’s a game of thrones. We like belts and speculating on the hierarchy of contenders and to have belts hanging over all proceedings like surveillance cameras. But the UFC does that already. So did Strikeforce (mostly) and so does Bellator (periodically). To do that, you have to fill in weight classes and harvest talent. That’s hard to do in the current landscape, not to mention tedious. That line of thinking “competes” with the UFC.
So make it about putting on the best available fights just for the sake of putting on the best available fights. If Josh Burkman doesn’t think Jon Fitch deserve a title shot, fine -- remove the politics from the equation. Get rid of the notion of belts. That’s so un-UFC. Would you have cared more if Arlovski/Johnson was for the heavyweight title? Probably not. They are, very consciously, UFC retreads (Arlovski even wore a UFC glove).
But that an unthinkable pairing should come together at WSOF gave it a fresh coat of intrigue. And you know what? That sort of matchmaking doesn’t need titles.
Johnson knocked out Charlie Brenneman in the first round of a UFC event on Oct. 1, 2011. It would be his final appearance at welterweight.
Departing the weight class in which he found much success, however, did not come as a surprise. Johnson struggled on several occasions to make the required weight limit.
As his body continued to mature, Johnson often walked around at 220 pounds -- sometimes heavier. Attempts to shed more than 50 pounds for a welterweight bout began taking a toll on his body and Johnson pulled out of at least two 170-pound fights with knee injuries.
His body was developing so rapidly that Johnson couldn't even make weight for a nontitle middleweight showdown in Januray against Vitor Belfort and tipped the scale at a whopping 197 pounds. The nontitle middleweight limit is 186 pounds.
A sluggish Johnson lost to Belfort by first-round submission and was released by UFC shortly thereafter. But what could have been a dismal period in his professional fighting life proved to be a blessing.
With the welterweight and middleweight divisions no longer an option, the Dublin, Ga., native, now 29, found comfort at light heavyweight.
There was never a reason to knock Johnson's ability inside the cage -- he's a highly skilled wrestler with above-average punching power and speed. And since moving up in weight, Johnson has proven to be a beast inside the cage by winning all four of his post-UFC bouts, including three knockout victories at light heavyweight -- a division he has proven he clearly belongs.
But one area in which a yellow flag could be raised is Johnson's unwavering desire to fight anyone, at any weight, at any time. Whenever Johnson is offered a fight, he eagerly accepts and concerns himself with making weight later.
On Saturday night at Revel Casino in Atlantic City, N.J., Johnson will again venture into difficult territory when he meets hard-hitting Andrei Arlovski in the main-event at World Series of Fighting 2.
It will be Johnson's first foray into the heavyweight ranks and despite being an underdog, he isn't worried. Arlovski is a difficult opponent, but with a solid training camp behind him, Johnson is confident an upset is in order.
"No matter what, I feel I always get the most out of my training," Johnson said Tuesday during a media call to promote the bout. "So, I can fight at light heavyweight or heavyweight and do what I have to do to win. It doesn't really matter to me."
Johnson expects to enter the cage on fight night weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 235 pounds. It will represent, by far, the most weight he's ever carried on his 6-foot-2 frame for a fight.
"Everything is still there -- the speed and the power," Johnson said. "I'm still an athlete. I don't feel I'm sacrificing anything, except height. I believe Andrei is bigger than me and a little heavier than me. But that's it."
After a two-year period that saw him suffer through four straight losses, the 6-4, 245-pound Arlovski has regained his form. The former UFC heavyweight champion has defeated four of his five most recent opponents, with the lone blemish being a no contest against Tim Sylvia at ONE FC 5 in Aug. 2012.
If ever there was a time not to fight Arlovski, it's right now. His confidence is at an all-time high due to the training he's received under Albuquerque, N.M.-based trainer Greg Jackson.
"Greg Jackson gave me hope after four losses," Arlovski said. "Some people told me I lost it, but he told me to come to Albuquerque and he gave me hope."
Lack of confidence is never an issue for Johnson. He steps into the cage Saturday with no doubts or reservations. Besides, Johnson knows he's in a no-lose situation.
He doesn't turn down fights, which is exactly why he's here. WSOF president Ray Sefo and senior executive vice president Ali Abdel-Aziz asked him to move up in weight for the good of the card and he agreed.
"Unless my man Ray Sefo and Ali ask me to take another fight at heavyweight, this is probably my one and only fight at heavyweight right now," Johnson said. "[Light heavyweight] is still where I want to be -- it's still my home. We'll see. Hopefully this is a good show. But for me and Andrei Arlovski, maybe win, lose or draw they might want to see a rematch and I might have to fight at heavyweight again."
One thing is for certain, Johnson's days of struggling to cut to 170 and 185 pounds are in the past. He will not drop that low again. And as a result, he is a better fighter who might just raise a few heavyweight eyebrows on Saturday.
ESPN Stats & Information
UFC on Fuel TV 8 takes place from the Saitama Super Arena in Japan this Saturday, the sixth time the UFC has traveled to the “Land of the Rising Sun.” The main event sees Wanderlei Silva battle Brian Stann at light heavyweight while Stefan Struve takes on Mark Hunt in a heavyweight bout. Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:
6: Fights Silva has had against an American fighter since his return to the UFC in 2007. He is 1-5 in those bouts, losing his past four (Rich Franklin twice, Chris Leben and Quinton Jackson). “The All-American” has fought just one Brazilian fighter in his career, defeating Jorge Santiago at UFC 130.
Wanderlei Silva, UFC Career vs. American Fighters:
UFC 147 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 132 Chris Leben L, KO
UFC 99 Rich Franklin L, UD
UFC 92 Quinton Jackson L, KO
UFC 84 Keith Jardine W, KO
UFC 79 Chuck Liddell L, UD
6: Times Silva has been defeated by KO or TKO in his 48-fight career. Four of those knockouts have come inside the UFC Octagon, while the other two were his last two PRIDE fights against Dan Henderson and Mirko Filipovic. The "Cro-Cop" fight was the last time Silva fought in Japan, which served as the home for PRIDE organization. Stann has nine KO/TKO wins in 17 career fights.
75: Percent of wins by "The Axe Murderer" that have come by KO or TKO (24 of 32). When Silva defeated Michael Bisping at UFC 110 by unanimous decision, it marked his first win not by KO or TKO since November 2003 at PRIDE: Final Conflict.
3: The combined takedowns by both fighters in their UFC careers (Silva 2, Stann 1). Each fighter attempts less than one takedown and one submission attempt per 15 minutes. In other words, it would be shocking to see this fight go to the ground unless one of the fighters gets knocked down.
2010: The last time former WEC light heavyweight champion Stann fought at 205 pounds, where he is 8-3 in his career. Stann will be dropping back to middleweight after this fight with Silva, where he holds a 4-2 record.
9: The reach advantage for 7-footer Stefan Struve in his co-main event bout against 5-foot-10 Mark Hunt. Struve’s reach is 83 inches while Hunt has a 74-inch reach. The 83-inch reach for Struve is second behind Jon Jones (84.5 inches) for longest reach in the UFC.
9: Wins for Struve inside the UFC Octagon, tied with Junior dos Santos, Gabriel Gonzaga and heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez for third among active heavyweights. With a win, he would join Frank Mir, Cheick Kongo, Andrei Arlovski and Randy Couture as the only UFC fighters with double-digit wins in the division.
Most UFC Wins, Active Heavyweight Fighters:
Frank Mir 14
Cheick Kongo 11
Cain Velasquez 9
Junior dos Santos 9
Gabriel Gonzaga 9
Stefan Struve 9*
*Four-fight win streak
3.9: Submissions attempted per 15 minutes for "The Skyscraper," fifth highest in UFC history and first among heavyweights. "The Super Samoan" has six submission defeats in seven career losses, all arm-related (three by armbar, two by kimura, one by keylock). Of Struve’s 16 submission victories, only three are by armbar (13 submissions by choke).
2: The main and co-main events are the only fights on the card not to feature a fighter from Japan or South Korea. There are nine Asia versus The World contests on the card. Japan is represented by Takanori Gomi, Yushin Okami, Mizuto Hirota, Riki Fukuda, Takeya Mizugaki, and Kazuki Tokudome. The South Koreans are represented in three matchups by Dong Hyun Kim, Kyung Ho Kang and Hyun Gyu Lim.
A bit of serendipity, right?
It certainly can’t hurt.
The WSOF is a fledging promotion that 41-year-old kickboxer/MMA fighter Ray Sefo is presiding over. You might be familiar with some of the names Sefo & Co. have been gathering to fill up its roster. UFC retreads, mostly -- but retreads with some miles left on them.
There’s former WEC champion Miguel Torres, who was cut abruptly for mysterious disciplinary reasons. There’s the no-longer-shrinkable Anthony Johnson fighting at 205 pounds. There’s the fanged Andrei Arlovski, a requisite Gracie (Gregor) and upstarts like Tyrone Spong. On the undercard? Gerald Harris, Josh Burkman and JZ Cavalcante. Even Waylon Lowe will be in the building come Nov. 3.
Not a bad first roll, really.
“The goal for us is to provide another stage,” Sefo, who was doing a media tour through New York, told ESPN.com. “There’s so much talent, so many fighters out there who don’t have a stage to go to. Obviously the mecca of MMA is the UFC. Our goal is to start slowly and then hopefully be as good or as big as the UFC. Obviously that takes a lot of time and you have to crawl before you walk.”
If it looks like a lot of eggs in one basket, it is. WSOF is loading the first card to gauge things. Having spoken to people within the company, they’re already blueprinting a January card, and there’s a tentative goal of doing 10 cards. By card three? That’s when they’ll start talking title fights, Sefo says. But that’s just projection, and in this racket, projection can barely raise an eyebrow.
The New Zealander Sefo knows that, and the idea is to take things slow, build up, and get better along the way. That’s why, in a way, the WSOF will launch itself happily as a “fallback” option for guys trickling out of the UFC. They will begin as security.
But this isn’t Affliction. They aren’t trying to go head-to-head with the UFC. In fact, Sefo and the WSOF backers are fantastic admirers of what Zuffa has done over the years. It’s to be an alternative. And it was created, in part, on fighter empathy.
... our goal is to make sure that the fighters are looked after. When the fighters are happy where they're at, they're going to come back every single time.” -- WSOF president Ray Sefo, on the treatment of his fighters
“This is a rough sport we’re in, and it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of dedication, a lot of time away from families,” Sefo said. “So being a fighter -- and I have experienced this myself with K-1 owing me so much money, as well as seeing it with other fighters -- our goal is to make sure that the fighters are looked after. When the fighters are happy where they’re at, they’re going to come back every single time.”
Sefo could be a spokesman for fighters being taken advantage of. In fact, by spearheading WSOF, he sort of already is. Sefo recently told MMAFighting that he was owed $800,000 of back pay by K-1. How’s that for a catalyst to action? In fact, some might say that WSOF is being overly generous with its pay. Gerald Harris, for instance, will make more in his first appearance with the promotion than he did in any of his UFC fights. And each fighter is signed to three- or four-fight deals.
As for the production of the event? Sefo says that here he takes his cues from the UFC, which operates as a well-oiled machine come fight night.
“I don’t think there’s much difference at all,” he says. “Everything they do, they do it right and they do it big. They are an inspiration for us, to make sure we take the right steps, one step at a time and we do things right.
“But I don’t think there’s much difference at all [in terms of production]. Being a new company, for us, the next two to three shows is a learning process.”
The first one will take place at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, and will be a cheap ticket for locals looking to catch the vibe live. “With the economy the way it is these days, we want to put a ticket out there that everyone can afford -- and everybody can afford a $20 ticket,” Sefo says.
Beyond that, the feeling with WSOF is “let’s see how the first one goes and not get too far ahead of ourselves.” Not that there isn’t optimism.
“Everybody that we’ve got on the card is excited,” Sefo says. “I’m really excited to see everybody come out and perform. It’s such a good card that there’s no one particular fight that stands out as a favorite. We’re very blessed with the card that we have.
“It’s baby steps. Take one step at a time and see where it goes.”
On the other hand, the biggest heavyweight grand prix in history has stretched on for 15 long, meandering months. When it started, Strikeforce was still a rival of the UFC’s. Fedor Emelianenko was still formidable. Antonio Silva was constructed from body parts unknown. Fabricio Werdum was still a castoff, and Brett Rogers was free of legal isues. Josh Barnett had single handedly shut down Affliction, and Andrei Arlovski was still believable in fangs. You might remember that The Reem wasn’t yet viral, and Sergei Kharitonov was still unspellable.
It was a different era when the tournament started. In fact, Daniel Cormier, who is in the grand prix final against Barnett, was the eleventh man in the field of eight. How, exactly, did we get here?
Just about all the elite Zuffa heavyweights (and Roy Nelson) will be making appearances in a seven-day span in May. The roads to spring 2012 have been very different, but between May 19-26, everybody will finally get on the same page. Schedules will sync up for matchmaking, guys who have been cordoned off from each other will be at liberty to poke their fingers in whoever’s chest they please, and the division will become one massive melting pot.
It starts with Strikeforce’s heavyweight swan song in San Jose, Calif.; and ends with the UFC’s big man extravaganza in Las Vegas. On May 19, Cormier-Barnett goes down at long, long last, before one or both head to the UFC. On May 26, Frank Mir against Velasquez, Nelson versus Antonio Silva, Alistair Overeem in a title fight with Junior dos Santos. Seven of those names belong in ESPN.com’s top 10 Power Rankings.
That’s a lot of firepower. Forget about the biggest fight or biggest grand prix in heavyweight history -- this will be the biggest single week of consolidating big men we’ve ever seen. And a week after that, we’ll be in a state of musical opponents, matching up winners with winners and losers with losers, and pitting re-emerging bodies like Shane Carwin and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with each other.
What does it really mean, though? That we’ll finally have a division that captivates the imagination like the others, with a little more matchmaking wiggle room and a lot more overall possibility. It’s a relaunch of something, only this time something whole. Now the best heavyweights in the world are gathering under one roof. And as everybody knows, heavyweights have always carried a little extra clout in the minds of fight fans. The bigger the man, the more likely people are to stop what they’re doing to watch. It’s what happens when guys like Alistair Overeem walk around weighing two Ian McCall’s.
And Zuffa is smart to roll out this broadened division en masse like this.
If you’re going to reimagine something, do it big.
In January of this year, the eight big guns on Strikeforce’s heavyweight roster stood on a New York City stage and looked like the most imposing ingredients to a nonfictional tournament since the Pride days. Even the alternates -- guys like Daniel Cormier, who defied odds by sneaking in and making it to the finals, and the mutton-chopped Chad Griggs -- were lively enough understudies.
The subtext of the grand prix? That Strikeforce had more depth in the most glamorous weight class than the UFC. It wasn’t the elephant in the room -- these were eight elephants in a room.
Dana White snickered. By spring, Zuffa bought Strikeforce. By summer, Alistair Overeem was on his way to the UFC. By winter, the wrecking ball assembly that made up the grand prix is being rapidly consolidated with the UFC's roster.
Zuffa is closing down the Strikeforce heavies to deepen the UFC’s. This, of course, is a good thing. The UFC’s heavyweight landscape will finally be on par with its other weight classes. How timely is that?
Not long ago (as in August), Brendan Schaub began to look like a top-flight heavyweight in the UFC. Not out of merit, but out of necessity. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in the twilight of his career, shut things down. Then it was Matt Mitrione, before he was Jenga’d by Cheick Kongo. Even UFC newbie Stipe Miocic began to look like “promise,” well before he stepped in the Octagon. All this time we’ve been playing at the dearth.
But now reinforcements are arriving. Reigning Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem was first, and he’ll fight Brock Lesnar next week at UFC 141 in a title eliminator. Fabricio Werdum came next, and he’ll take on Roy Nelson at UFC 143. With the news of Strikeforce shutting its heavyweight division down in total, the carpet is rolling out for others now, too.
Lavar Johnson, who also fought in the WEC back in 2005 and 2006, has signed to fight Joey Beltran at UFC on FOX: "Davis vs. Evans." And MMA Weekly reported that Griggs -- who foiled overly idealistic plans for Bobby Lashley by obliterating him -- also signed a contract with the UFC, and will debut in the Octagon in 2012. Antonio Silva is expecting a call soon, and Sergei Kharitonov would like to join his training partner John Olav Einemo in the UFC.
Of all the grand prix participants, only a few will likely be left out -- Andrei Arlovski, the former UFC champion, who is on (what he hopes) a comeback trail; Brett Rogers, whose personal life is in shambles; and Fedor Emelienenko, whose management would like to skip the process and pencil in a date with Cain Velasquez.
Once Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett finish up the afterthought-ish grand prix in March, one or each will make their way to the UFC. (There is still a bonus heavyweight fight for the winner, which is short on details right now). When that happens, which could be as early as April or May of 2012, matchmaking in the UFC’s heavyweight division becomes more fun. With the reemergence of Frank Mir, there are now five legit bigs at the top -- Junior dos Santos, Velasquez, Overeem, Lesnar and Mir. Shane Carwin will be back in mid-2012, as well. Cusp fighters like Roy Nelson, Kongo and Travis Browne are still there, and green-but-emerging guys like Schaub and Mitrione are hovering.
But when you stack Werdum, Bigfoot Silva, Barnett, Cormier, Kharitonov, Shane del Rosario and Griggs in there? This thing about finding out who the best heavyweight in the world is becomes legit.
At the beginning of 2011, the questions centered around what happens if there wasn’t a partition between Strikeforce and the UFC, if guys like Overeem fought in the UFC? The partition is coming down, and we’ll find out soon enough.
“Unfortunately, I got injured training here in Holland, had a partial tear in the triceps tendon of my left arm,” Rizzo said via his Twitter account. “I am in the prime of my condition and I’m really very frustrated with what happened.”
The 37-year-old Rizzo hasn’t fought since July 2010 when he registered a first-round TKO of Ken Shamrock in Sydney, Australia. Rizzo (19-9) is currently on a three-fight win streak.
His fight with Sylvia was to headline ProElite 2 at i wireless Center in Moline, Ill. Sylvia will now face Andreas Kraniotakes.
During his most recent fight, Sylvia stopped Patrick Barrentine in the first round on Aug. 20. The former UFC heavyweight champion is 29-7.
The ProElite 2 co-feature pits heavyweight Andrei Arlovski against Travis Fulton. Arlovski (16-9) will enter the fight on a high note. He halted a four-fight skid with a third-round TKO of Ray Lopez on Aug. 27.
The one going on in Houston this weekend is no different. Thousands of people with cell phone cameras mill about, hoping to bump into somebody/anybody in the fight game. And they do, because the place is teeming with fighters and fighter factions and fight game vendors/periphery ... almost everybody in loud, expressive t-shirts. People like Jens Pulver are happily mobbed. Jacob Duran, the man they call “Stitch” gets mobbed. MMAFighting's Ariel Helwani signs autographs and smiles for pictures.
It’s organized bedlam.
And there was one booth in the middle of it all that could detail the UFC’s long, curving road to the hitherto. That was the booth where Thomas Gerbasi, the UFC’s Editorial Director, was signing the newly released UFC Encyclopedia (DK Books, $50) -- a 400-page undertaking that recaps and glossarizes every event that’s happened from UFC 1, with bios beginning at Andrei Arlovski and ending with Yoshiyuki Yoshida.
Wondering about Anthony Fryklund? He’s in there. The whole fraternity is; anybody who has ever stepped in the Octagon.
For historians who like tactile things, this beats Wikipedia -- and it’s timely.
Realistically, most fans of MMA haven’t been following the sport since UFC 1 in 1993. If the UFC is zeroing in on the 18-34 male demographic, that means the 18-year-olds in the equation were still in bassinets when the martial arts began to mix. There hasn’t been a good, definitive look at the history of the UFC until this chronological tome, which uses graphs, stats, color pictures, blurbs and capsules to illustrate and detail every card (up to UFC 130), every fighter, every TUF season, and every nook and cranny in between (for you fetishists, there are four full pages of Dan Severn).
How author Gerbasi found the time to write it amidst all the other stuff he does at UFC.com (which is a lot) and his beat writing for the Gotham Girls Roller Derby team is beyond understanding.
“You see this red on the book spine? That’s my blood,” he joked. But thumbing through the book, which includes a double-truck on the Octagon girls both past and present, you can’t help but think he’s only half joking.
Early rumors had Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski headed for their fourth meeting on Nov. 5 in Moline, Ill., but now it's believed Pedro Rizzo will meet Sylvia. Meanwhile, Arlovski will fight the prolific Travis Fulton. Lightweight prospect Reagan Penn and well-known female fighter Tara LaRossa are both also scheduled to appear.
In other words, just as you might expect from a fledgling, second-tier organization, it’s sort of a mixed bag. Unfortunately, these bouts don’t seem to represent a step forward for the company after a fairly successful August debut.
For the second consecutive time since its purchase by the Stratus Media Group earlier this year, ProElite appears to be relying heavily on a bevy of UFC retreads to carry the top part of its card. That’s fine for a small-time independent promotion, but it’s probably not the right approach if ProElite wants to quickly ascend to the level the Bellators or even the UFCs of the world.
This seems doubly true when you consider that this latest foursome of old school vets is even less relevant than guys like Joe Riggs, Kendall Grove and Drew McFedries, who ProElite tabbed for its first show.
Rizzo, after all, is 37 and hasn’t fought since he defeated Ken Shamrock in July 2010. He talked wistfully of a UFC return during UFC: Rio, but remains some 10 years removed from his fighting prime. For his part, Sylvia has been more active, but hasn’t even made the 265-pound heavyweight limit since he got knocked out by Fedor Emelianenko in 2008. It’s pretty hard to stay on the tips of fans’ tongues when you’re not fighting in a division they recognize.
After losses in four of his last five fights, we all know the story on Arlovski at this point. And Travis Fulton? He’s, well, Travis Fulton. His official record is currently listed at 247-48-10. Enough said.
If ProElite wants to be seen as an up-and-comer on the MMA scene, it might be better off trying to nurture its own stars in the mold of Bellator and the money it spends on recognizable names should go to athletes in their primes -- guys like Nate Marquardt and Paul Daley -- instead of investing in people who feel like they’re fast approaching the end of their careers.
At the very least, the matchups should be compelling. Not sure if Sylvia versus Rizzo and Arlovski versus Fulton quite fit that bill, either.
Not that all the news here is negative for ProElite. There has been talk that the promotion might organize an eight-man tournament of mostly unknown heavyweights, which could be interesting if it’s promoted properly. The company also appears to have a couple of good young fighters in Penn and heavyweight Mark Ellis and reports say organizational brass are talking to cable channels about the possibility of putting this second event on TV. All the more reason to create an interesting card.
For a promotion that was dead in the water this time last year, ProElite has already accomplished a lot. You just have to wonder how bright the company’s future will be so long as it continues to invest in stars of the past.
For Ortiz it’s a resurrection tour he’s taking through Ryan Bader and now Evans. The greatest thing he has going for him? Confidence. He fought a month ago and the new Ortiz looked like the old Ortiz. His fans have slinked back out from their holding tanks, just in time for him to crash back into relevance. What would a win do for him? It’s so preposterous it’s hard to write … but, potentially earn him a shot against the Jon Jones/Quinton Jackson winner. If you’d said that before his fight with Bader, people would have thought you just came from the booby hatch.
Nobody saw this trajectory.
For Evans? It’s a gamble. The good news is the dealer is showing a six and he has 19, so he’s in a superior position. The bad news is we’ve seen fights on short notice plenty before where the sizable underdog comes through. Charlie Brenneman did it to Rick Story, Melvin Guillard did it to Evan Dunham, Dustin Poirier did it to Josh Grispi, Keith Jardine did it to Gegard Mousasi (ahem) and so on. The point is, when guys are asked to step up and take a high-profile fight from whatever place of counted-out anonymity they’re in, they hold their own as often as not. This fight has a little bit of that going on.
Ortiz isn’t coming from an anonymous place, but he is coming back from injuries, doubt and obsolescence. Imagine the scene if he beats Evans. It will be pandemonium.
Booked to win
Speaking to Strikeforce/UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby last night, he pointed out that, when creating a title fight, he has the champion’s fall in mind. “I’m only interested in the guy who will beat the champion” he said.
In other words, no soft lobs in the UFC, which is one of the distinguishing factors on how business is done in Zuffa versus how it’s done in boxing.
Greg Jackson won’t be with Brendan Schaub or any other fighter in Rio de Janeiro for UFC 134. Why? Because he will be in Hawaii, cornering the man he intends to resurrect -- Andrei Arlovski. Arlovski fights on the same night (Aug. 27) in ProElite’s newly rebooted model. The chants of Arlovski being a shot fighter have gotten to Jackson, who says he intends to prove all reports of his demise premature. His opponent, Ray Lopez, isn’t exactly household name…but he’s a place to start.
At yesterday’s news conference, everyone was professional and gentlemanly. But you know who gets the “emphasis on hammering home a point” award? Rashad Evans. Check out how he handled a question about who has the most to lose in his fight with Ortiz:
“The truth of the matter, what it comes down to no matter what happens after this fight, the bare essentials comes down to this right here: Neither of us wants to lose to the other person.”
That’s bottom line stuff.